When Shawn Brown and her family first moved to Liberty Lake in 1997, she thought it would be a great place for a small newspaper.
As soon as someone starts one, Ill write for them, thought the career technical writer whose only newspaper experience had involved covering youth sports during a brief stint in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.
When nobody else took the initiative to start a paper at Liberty Lake, Brown did, with some assistance from her husband, Nathan. The couple published the first eight-page issue of the Liberty Lake Splash in September 1999, selling enough advertising to pay for printing costs and to mail out 2,700 free copies to Liberty Lake residents.
We felt it was a natural community for its own newspaper, she says. It is geographically set apart from the Valley. Attitude-wise, its set apart as well.
In its relatively short tenure, the Splash has chronicled several significant events: Liberty Lakes incorporation as a city of 4,300 people; an ongoing, impassioned legal battle between that new city and the Liberty Lake Sewer District; and continued growth of the popular residential-and-industrial area.
The newspaperwith the tongue-in-cheek slogan, Serving Liberty Lake With Local News Since the Turn of the Centuryalso has gone from being published every other week out of the Browns home to weekly publication with regular office space. It has done so with Brown acting as editor, publisher, reporter, advertising salesperson, circulation manager, and janitor.
The Splash relies on contributed pieces for some of its content, including some by Nathan Brown, and contracts with a commercial printer to print it, but Brown, a mother of five and former high school track star, does the rest herself. She says she typically does so between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. so she can be home when her childrenall between the 6 and 12 years oldarent at school.
The Splash, formally incorporated as At Your Doorstop LLC, currently has a circulation of about 4,600mostly unpaidand estimates its readership at 7,000 people, counting pass-along readers. About 3,600 free copies of the paper are delivered each week by mail to homes in Liberty Lake, and the other 1,000 are delivered by hand to merchants and businesses for distribution to their customers and employees. About 80 paid subscribers from outside Liberty Lake also take the paper.
Like most newspapers, the Splash generates the bulk of its income from display-advertising sales, and sales volume determines how big the paper will be. The Splash currently ranges in size from eight to 24 short-tabloid pages, and usually includes either 12 or 16 pages. The paper goes to press on Tuesday, is mailed out on Wednesday, and typically reaches readers on Thursday.
Unlike most newspapers, however, the Splash doesnt charge for its classified ads, Brown says. Instead, it accepts donations for running them.
An explanation in the classified section says, Let your conscience be your guide. If you sell your car, if you have 800 people come to your garage sale, pay what you feel it was worth. If nobody comes to look at your house, or if you cant give away your weight bench, pay nothing.
Brown says the newspaper charged for classified ads at first, but converted to a free system because billing and collection took more of her time than the nominal revenues were worth. With the donation system, she says, the one-page classifieds section takes substantially less time, but still produces enough income through donations to support itself.
For the business as a whole, Brown declines to disclose revenues, but says the paper has been profitable since inception. Not wildly so, though, she says. The car I drive is 10 years old, and so is Nathans.
The Splash is located in a small corner office in the Liberty Square Building, at 1421 Meadowwood Lane. The city of Liberty Lakes offices are a few doors down in the same building, and the Splash is the newspaper of record for the city, which means the city uses the newspaper for its legal-notice advertising.
Oftentimes, there will be someone from the city in our offices on Thursday, with comments about an article in that days paper, Brown says.
Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson chuckles while conceding that it often is him who visits the Splash with comments and criticisms shortly after the newspaper hits newsstands. He says Brown doesnt pull any punches in her reporting, but does a good job of getting to the core issues of stories.
Theyre a good community paper, he says. Shawn Brown is dedicated to trying to provide the community with a focus on the kids, the local parks, and the new city government.
She says some of the more controversial stories the paper has covered involved the fledgling city, including its hiring of a city manager without going through a public process, and the ongoing dispute over whether the new city or the established sewer district would handle water and sewer service within the city.
Though some public officials can be critical of coverage, Brown says she strives to be objective. Because she wants to be impartial, Brown says, she rarely writes editorials.
At a bigger paper where there are a lot of perspectives, there is room for editorial perspective, she says. Here, we have one perspective. Were so small that an editorial overshadows everything else we do.
Still, most of the papers content steers far from controversy and involves much simpler topics and events in the small town. A Page One story in a recent issue reported that a Boy Scout had approached the Liberty Lake City Council with a proposal to erect a flag pole in the citys Pavillion Park. Another story told of an airline pilots visit to a class of fifth-graders at Liberty Lake Elementary School.
The name Liberty Lake Splash came to Brown while she was in the shower, shortly before she went to press with the papers first edition. She says she liked the name so mucha water reference in a newspaper for a town named after a lakethat she changed it in the masthead at the last minute, but failed to change it on the inside pages. So the masthead of the inaugural edition says, Liberty Lake Splash, while the inside pages say, Liberty Lake Telegraph, the original working name.
Brown and her husband each spent a small amount of time in the Inland Northwest while growing upshe attended Coeur dAlene High School for a few years before her family moved to Southern Idaho where she set state records in distance-running events. Nathan Brown went to North Pines Junior High, in the Spokane Valley, before his family moved to California.
Nathan Brown graduated from Stanford University in the mid-1990s with a masters degree in business administration. He interviewed with several large companies, including Hewlett-Packard Co. for its Liberty Lake operationnow part of Agilent Technologies Inc. He turned that job down initially, but after a short stint on the East Coast, where Shawn Brown got her first taste of reporting, the company he worked for proposed to transfer him to Australia. Rather than take the transfer, he decided to take the still-open job offer with H-P in Liberty Lake.
Shawn Brown has a bachelors degree in English from Brigham Young University, and previously worked as a technical writer for IBM Corp. in the Silicon Valley.
While with IBM, she became familiar with a variety of software applications, and because she was comfortable in learning new technology, getting herself up to speed in desktop publishing when she started the Splash wasnt as daunting as it might have been for someone else.
She says shes glad to be in the newspaper business.
Its a job that always changes, she says. Ive learned so much about so many things.
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