Josh Johnson and The Spokane Valley Current

If you have not picked up a copy of the new Spokane Valley news-monthly, The Current, then you cannot be, well, current. Since the first edition last February, it has grown to 10,000 copies per month, featuring news and sports coverage as well as human interest and historical pieces at a level the Valley has not seen but needed for a long time.

While the greater Valley area sprawls east to the state line and down south to the Palouse with more than 120,000 residents, 4 school districts and 4 city governments, it has no media organization of any size focused on it. Considering that there are thousands of communities across the nation far smaller than ours with weekly and often daily newspapers, you would think the Valley might ought to have a stronger Fourth Estate.

That is what Josh Johnson, publisher of the Current, thinks as well but he also knows how hard it is to run newspapers profitably with so much cable and internet news free at the press of a button . “People are now saying that information is free and information should be free, “Josh told me recently, adding that as with most businesses the Valley is a particularly difficult place to set up shop.

I love going out to breakfast and getting together with these old timers that have been around the industry for years,” said Josh, who is on the board of trustees for the Washington Newspaper Association. “But they all say the Spokane Valley is a tough nut and that I don’t know what I am getting into.”

While he admits they may be right in some ways, he also knows he has past experience and present positioning that make him uniquely qualified to at least realistically contemplate giving the Valley its own newsroom.

After graduating from Central Valley High School in 1996, Josh headed off to Northwest Arkansas to get a degree in journalism, interning at the Harold Leader, a twice-weekly newspaper in the town Siloam Springs, Arkansas, population 15,000.

“I went for a journalism degree mainly because I like to write,” he said. “It was a great adventure. I had never even been east of the Mississippi.” It was an adventure that hooked Josh up with a life career and a life mate. After graduation, he took a job at the Herald and Review, the daily newspaper of his young bride’s hometown of Decatur, Illinois, population 76,000.

After two years at the copy desk in Illinois, Josh and Kim moved back to Arkansas where he went to work again for the newspaper chain owned by Wal-Mart heir Jim Walton whose newspapers included the Herald Leader in Siloam Springs. He returned  as assistant manager and opinion editor for the Benton County Daily Record, the newspaper of Bentonville, Arkansas, population 36,000.

“I was too young, I was only 24” said Josh ,explaining that he was a part of the paper’s four-person editorial think tank and wrote the paper’s official editorial seven days a week as well as a weekly column featuring his own views of the world. “I remember a retired judge came into my office one time to discuss an issue he had written in about. And he looked at me and shook his head and said ‘Son, you’re too young to have an opinion.’ He was right in a lot of ways.”

It was, however, a good experience and it led him and his wife, Kim, to the next fork in the road that appeared in 2004 when they got a call from Josh’s mom who lives in Liberty Lake. “Mom is a great recruiter, she should be on a college basketball staff,” he said laughing. “She sent five of us kids back to the Midwest and then got us all back home.”

Turns out that she got wind that Shawn Brown, publisher of Liberty Lake’s weekly The Splash, was short-handed and so she put the two in contact. They met but Josh returned to Bentonville having decided not to work for The Splash. “It was just a two-man shop where you have to do a lot of things you would rather not do,” he said. “If you do that, you might as well own it.”

Within a few months Shawn emailed him and said they were going to sell the Splash and wanted Josh and Kim to buy it. Shawn wanted The Splash to remain a locally owned business that focused on the community and was a part of the community. So Josh, just four years out of college, got local again and became a newspaper publisher, editor, reporter and chief bottle washer.

“I learned a whole lot in a big hurry,” he said, explaining that his journalism degree and Kim’s degree in social work did not prepare them for running a small business. “We have spent the last eight years learning from our mistakes. Fortunately we make the same ones less often.”

Through those eight years of learning, Josh has grown Pierot Publishing slowly and steadily, allowing Kim to eventually move out of the office to tend to the greater task of caring for the family that now includes two young daughters who began showing up just 10 months after the move back to Liberty Lake in 2004.

By 2011, Pierot Publishing had 5 employees and was capable of producing supplemental publications such as an awarding-winning visitors guide as well as the weekly Liberty Lake Splash. It was a level of production capable of meeting the challenge of a new opportunity Josh had long been eyeing in the Valley.

“We had thought we would not do it for a long time. We love Liberty Lake so much and I love to able to really focus in on the community,” he said, adding that their company mission statement is “to inform, connect and inspire communities.”

“The Valley Herald had cut their staff in half and the Valley Voice office was moved downtown,” Josh said. More importantly, Josh and his team had gotten good at putting out a solid local news publication in Liberty Lake, the likes of which the Valley did not have. The decision was made to cut out the supplemental publishing and dive into The Current.

“There is so much that a paper can do and has traditionally been relied upon to do for a community,” he said. “I love the information side, sharing things that people need to know but journalism also has a way of connecting people in ways they would not otherwise connect.” He has the added good fortune of connecting and informing the community that he loves.

The Current is that place where opportunity meets passion and ability. For now it is a monthly publication that focuses more on issues than events while dispensing lots of additional information not to be found anywhere else. Which way The Current goes from here is still up around the bend.

“Ideally, a community the size of the Spokane Valley could support a newsroom, but I think the days of starting a daily newspaper in the Valley are probably past,” he said, adding that it could possibly support a weekly like The Splash, but he is wading in slowly.

“Hopefully the monthly will continue to take hold and we will be able to build.” He sees that the Valley could benefit from a focused local news publication. “I think this community deserves it and we are positioned to give it a try,” he said.

If our community is fortunate, we will support his efforts and always be informed and connected by a strong Current running in Spokane Valley, Washington, population 90,000.

 

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