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A recent report calling for continued investment in high-speed rail between Oregon and British Columbia reminds us that innovative thinking for the Cascadia corridor can potentially meet regional livability needs and address long-term carbon emission targets.
The Washington State Department of Transportation’s 2020 Framework for the Future highlights long-term planning in a post-COVID world, but also articulates how quality-of-life issues are contingent upon regional diplomacy, ecological responsibility and sustainable financial investment. These laudable aspirations might feel far-fetched when other issues warrant more immediate attention from federal, provincial and state governments. But initiatives like the related Cascadia Innovation Corridor have provided a wider forum for meaningful dialogue that also includes think-tanks, nonprofits and the corporate sector.
How do we get to a place where Cascadia can serve as a model of sustainability, innovation and planning? Cross-border corporate and civic engagement goes a long way here. But so, too, does a healthy Cascadia media environment that reflects our transboundary governance structures and cultural institutions. Journalism that embraces a larger vision of this international corridor best serves Cascadia’s constituents by setting up the region up to tackle the big challenges of the next century.
My recent research for the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University examines a dynamic Cascadia media ecosystem that is tackling a complex array of social and environmental topics in an international context, even as media organizations contend with unprecedented challenges. In speaking to media professionals on both sides of the B.C.-Washington border about their vision of our cross-border geography, I learned that journalists are overwhelmingly favorable to the concept of Cascadia as a bioregion of global importance.
That same sentiment is true for region-wide themes of business innovation and urban sustainability. And yet, ever-shrinking newsroom budgets means that the focus for journalists is by default increasingly inward-looking. As one community newspaper reporter explained, “Our focus has to be local … we are not ignoring Cascadia, but we are not necessarily focusing on it either.”
It is the cross-border bioregional or economic stories that typically nudge reporters into the larger Cascadia narrative. A small example of this comes from B.C.’s Okanagan Valley. In 2019, the Osoyoos Times covered an 81-hectare mountainside wildfire just minutes south of the city in Oroville, Washington. With only two journalists, the newspaper was able to put together a comprehensive news package by drawing from visual imagery, first-hand citizen accounts, policy experts via social media channels and updates from the Washington Department of Ecology.
The quality of reporting was heightened with cross-border contacts and on-the-ground sources. This proved to be key when another wildfire just south of Osoyoos warranted similar attention last summer. Reporting local stories in a regional or cross-border context thus allows for an interplay of communication and civic engagement between jurisdictions. As media entities encounter growing challenges from intensifying competition, shifting audience demographics, technological disruptions and collapsing business models, at least one media model is showing signs of resilience. Independent news sites, often operating as not-for-profit organizations, offer readers analysis and information that mirrors reader interests and citizen priorities.
One such enterprise is Vancouver-based The Tyee. Founded in 2003, the news website’s revenues come from a combination of reader donations, advertising dollars and major B.C. philanthropists. In recent times, the publication’s Cascadia coverage has featured protections of coastal grey whales on both sides of the marine border; Washington state’s alignment with climate change objectives in British Columbia; and the impact of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion on the Salish Sea’s Southern Resident killer whales.
South of the border, nonprofit enterprises like Seattle-based Crosscut also focus on themes of ecology, sustainability and social policy. Both Crosscut and The Tyee, along with other publications of their kind, are well-positioned to align the shared ecological and social interests of citizens across the region, in spite of how large our international border looms. The Tyee promises content that speaks to B.C.’s “connection to the Pacific bioregion that extends from Alaska to Northern California.” More publications would be wise to similarly contextualize their news content.
A good example in this regard is the publication you are reading. The Salish Current is smartly adjoining hyperlocal issues in Washington’s state’s northwest quadrant to larger political, economic and environmental themes. In the Current’s case, open-access publishing has the ability to foster original news content and reporting alongside curated aggregation of news from northwestern Washington state. It reminds us that hyperlocal stories about pressing issues such as marine conservation, housing and the plight of declining manufacturing jobs deserve in-depth and multidimensional journalistic attention. Situating the hyperlocal as a foundation for getting to the global offers an emergent model for regional journalism and a promising pathway for media economics.
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