If you’re reading this in early June 2021, it means you’re in the enviable position of being one of the first people to visit our new website. Take a look around, check out our archives. I’m really excited about our new Front page and I hope you will be, too.
A few things to notice:
There’s an orange button in the top right that says “newsletter”; if you click it you’ll start getting a curated list of our best original student journalism straight to your inbox every week.
As part of our work to get useful news with context to everyone in the community, we’ve also launched a new podcast, which you can hear and subscribe to by clicking here.
And if you’re really busy, head over to our social accounts, where we distill longform stories into the essentials that everyone needs to know. You can find those accounts linked on our homepage.
This website is a part of a larger evolution that has been in the works for a while. It couldn’t have happened without the hard work and contributions of numerous past editors. Some of the changes have been happening subtly over the past few months; others are rolling out for the first time today.
Here’s a rundown:
We’re changing the name
Western Washington University’s independent student newspaper has gone by a number of names. In 1899, Western was called The Northwest Normal School and the student paper was called The Normal Messenger.
Since then, the paper has gone by other names, including Western Washington Collegian, Weekly Messenger, Western Viking and The Straight News. The first edition of The Western Front was published in 1967, and under that name the paper has won awards, broke major stories and held power to account. We want to honor our history, but we think it’s time for the paper to take its next step. After years of reader feedback and staff discussion, we’re making the call this quarter to officially drop the “Western.” As of June 2, 2021, Western’s independent student newspaper is called The Front.
There are a few reasons for the change. The first is the war — more specifically, the famously gruesome battlefield that connotes destruction, high school reading lists and pictures of soldiers in trenches whenever people try to Google our website or use #westernfront on Twitter.
More broadly, we also want to demonstrate the paper’s increasing commitment to covering not just Western, but also the greater Bellingham and Whatcom County communities. As vulture hedge funds and Google and Facebook’s advertising duopoly continue to wreak havoc on local journalism, original reporting is an increasingly scarce resource. Over the past few years, The Front has stepped up to fill those gaps and cover underreported stories in Bellingham and Whatcom County.
Original reporting means going out and interviewing stakeholders and the people most affected by the issues. The Front doesn’t aggregate content or copy press releases. Behind every story, there are hours of research, interviews and fact-checking.
The Front is staffed by students and will continue to cover the university in depth, but by removing “Western” from the name, we hope to show that the paper can be a resource for the entire community. The Front is paywall-free, editorially independent and here to stay. You can check out some of our previous city and county coverage here and here. Send suggestions for other stories you’d like to see covered and we’ll try to get to The Front of them.
Editors, writers and readers have informally used “The Front” while referring to the paper for years now, so we hope the new name will be an easy transition. As part of the name change, The Front is also rolling out …
A new logo
Here it is! The new logo was designed by Daniel McMorrow, a student in Western’s design program.
"The logo could depict a flower, leaves, or raindrops, but it's more than literally refrencing the nature around us; it's also continually evolving and adapting," McMorrow said.
The design is meant to evoke the paper's 100+ year history and values of authenticity and discovery — it's about what we do, but also where we are and how we value it.
Socials that sing
We’ve been using our social accounts to reach audiences directly and experiment with multimedia storytelling. We love long-form features, but we realize that sitting down to read a wall of text isn’t something that’s accessible to everyone. We've recently started focusing on explainers and slideshows that present our reporting visually. We’ve done it for fun stories like this one about the Western's Arboretum. But also for serious news like this one about rising COVID-19 cases.
Our social accounts are also a place where we can engage with our audience directly. Over the past few quarters we’ve been busy with Q&As, audience polls and other forms of reader engagement. Here are the results of a few recent (very informal) surveys:
- 81% of Instagram followers support removing Huxley’s name from Western’s College of the Environment. (May 31, 2021)
- 95% of Instagram followers supported Western requiring proof of vaccination for on-campus activities in fall 2021. (April 30, 2021)
- 10% of Instagram followers said they understand Western’s budget. (February 23, 2021)
The ForeFront podcast
Have you heard the news? The Front has a new semi-weekly podcast called The ForeFront. The podcast combines audio reporting and conversations with editors and writers about stories they’ve been working on and the stories behind the stories. It’s a way for us to explore new content and make our work more accessible.
The audio medium has allowed for some pretty cool storytelling. In episode two, our assistant producer braved the Underground nightclub to capture the sounds of a disjointed return to normal. In next week’s episode, we’ll take you with us to explore the hidden secrets of the Sehome Hill Arboretum. We’ve spent most of this season getting insights from reporters, but in future quarters we’re hoping to bring on more voices from the community.
The music in the podcast is written and produced by students on The Front. Check out the main theme song — you might recognize those bells.
Journalism that answers questions
This has been a chaotic quarter, with registration dates, vaccine requirements, social distancing rules, reopening phases, mask guidelines and so many other parts of daily life in a state of flux. As we prepare to log off Zoom and return to some semblance of near-normal, our readers have a lot of questions. How many classes will be in-person in the fall? (About two-thirds). When does registration open? (June 2). What if I’m not able to find a vaccine? (Click this link). Will Zoe’s be open next year? (Yes!).
We want The Front to be a resource. Our goal is to find the tangible answers our community needs and present that information in a way that’s simple and easy to understand. That means keeping a close eye on shifting registration dates, breaking down Western’s vaccine mandate and compiling a list of takeaways from Western’s forum on fall quarter.
If you have a question about COVID-19, campus, Bellingham, Whatcom County or anything else, we’d love to hear it. Send us a message and we’ll try our best to find answers.
A community editorial board
In the same vein of answering questions and bettering our coverage of issues that matter to you, we’ve been laying the groundwork for a community editorial board for The Front.
The community editorial board will be a regular gathering of Front editors and community members to discuss issues facing the community. These conversations will inform editorial content, and help us to better understand the people, places and institutions we cover.
The board will meet three times a quarter beginning this fall and is just one part of the larger effort to strengthen our roots in the community we serve. Community members will serve on the board for a year-long term and be a part of conversations facilitated by Front editors.
If you’re interested in getting involved, email us at email@example.com.
What this means for the future
The Front is both a class and a publication. Students hoping to major in journalism or public relations are required to take the class for credit. As part of the class, they follow a beat, pitch stories, file on deadline and do original reporting that gets published in The Front. Their work gets edited by the publication side of The Front, which is made up of student editors who take it for either class credit or pay on a quarterly basis. We also publish guest columns from the community, as well as reporting produced by student journalists in other classes at Western.
Because of the constant turnover, trying to make change at a student newspaper can feel sisyphean. New reporters and editors come and go every quarter; talented people start ambitious projects and then graduate. But with this new website, new name and overall restructuring, as well as important new initiatives created by recent editors, we’re hoping to set something slightly more permanent in place. A publication that can outlast the current editorial staff and grow into a consistent resource for the community. The new name is just one small step in The Front’s ongoing evolution.
Being at the front of something doesn’t mean going ahead of others. It means standing at attention, ready to listen and ask questions; it means holding ourselves and others accountable. It means showing up to City Council and Board of Trustees meetings — taking the time to read the fine print in budget reports and legal documents. We’re emerging from a crisis that fundamentally altered the way we live our lives. Things are starting to improve, but it’s more important than ever that we have people ready to ask tough questions about what got left behind. And when new issues inevitably arise, we’ll be there to take you to The Front with us.
— Nate Sanford,
Editor-in-chief, spring 2021
Nate Sanford is the editor-in-chief of The Western Front and a fourth year news/editorial journalism major. His reporting focuses on the environment, local politics, culture and anything else that matters. His writing has appeared in Crosscut, The Planet magazine, Whatcom Watch and at least one desk in Haggard Hall. You can find him on Twitter @sanford_nate and at firstname.lastname@example.org.