The Spokesman-Review (Spokane)

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 7/26/2012
  • Essay 10153
See Additional Media

The Spokesman-Review is Spokane's major daily newspaper, with roots that stretch back to The Spokane Falls Review, established in 1883 and The Spokesman, established in 1890. These rival papers consolidated in 1893 under the name The Spokane Review. In 1894, William Hutchinson Cowles (1866-1946) became the sole owner and publisher and changed its name to The Spokesman-Review. Cowles would remain publisher for more than 50 years, building the paper into the city's dominant daily. It was a 1993 finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and was named in 1999 as one of the 25 best newspapers in the country. It has broken many controversial stories over the decades, including one that resulted in the recall of a mayor in 2005. It has since suffered from the circulation and revenue declines that have beset many newspapers, yet it continues to operate both print and online editions from the 1891 brick Review Tower, under the helm of the founder's great-grandson William Stacey Cowles (b. 1960).

A New Paper, with "Explanation"

The early history of The Spokesman-Review is actually a story of three newspapers: The Spokane Falls Review, The Spokesman and The Spokane Review, all of which morphed into what would finally be called The Spokesman-Review in 1894. The true beginning came with the first edition of The Spokane Falls Review, dated May 19, 1883. However, the evidence suggests that it was actually printed on May 20, 1883 for one simple reason: The editor got lost.

His name was Frank M. Dallam (1849-1928), newly arrived from California. He had a press on order from San Francisco but some parts hadn't arrived on time. So he hauled the page forms by wagon to Cheney, where the publisher of the Cheney Sentinel had agreed to let Dallam use his press. It was only a 16-mile trek.

"I started out for (Cheney), perfectly ignorant of the wagon road or the lay of the country," wrote Dallam in a reminiscence. "That ignorance caused me more misery, for when daylight appeared, I was near a small cabin and knocked the people out to find ‘where I was at.’ ... . I was close to Spangle, almost in an opposite direction from Cheney" (Dallam, p. 399-400).

The first issue of the paper included an item titled "Explanation," in which he described the press-shipment delay, but chose not to describe his all-night adventure to Spangle. He wrote that the paper was a day late, but "we hope this delay will not happen again anytime soon" ("Explanation").

Right below it on the page was a story that exemplified Dallam's good-humored style. A black bear had wandered along the riverfront of this dusty pioneer town, population about 1,500, and into a Spokane Falls restaurant called Delmonico's. The patrons scattered in alarm. Dallam noted dryly that the diners "liked bear, but hadn't ordered any raw on the half shell" ("Bear Picnic").

Politics in Spokane Falls

Dallam's little weekly paper got its start because the little town of Spokane Falls had an opening for a Republican-leaning newspaper. Dallam had been brought up in a Midwestern newspaper family and had come west to run a weekly in Hayward, California. Yet in January 1883, he had paid a visit to Spokane Falls on a scouting expedition. He was impressed with Spokane’s newspaper prospects. Yet Spokane already had a thriving newspaper, the weekly Spokane Chronicle, which had been publishing since 1881. Dallam tried to buy the Chronicle but the publisher wouldn’t sell. After talking to some of the city fathers, he realized that Spokane Falls was ripe for a second paper, which would counteract the politics of the Chronicle.

"I informed them gently of my mission, and as the Chronicle had a decided leaning toward democracy (the Democratic Party), and I would not publish anything but a paper advocating Republicanism, they were very solicitous in their efforts to induce me to locate in Spokane," wrote Dallam (Durham, p. 399).

So Dallam ordered a press, returned to Spokane and began The Spokane Falls Review. Its politics were Republican, which had been the country’s dominant party since Lincoln. Yet Dallam made it clear that the paper was not going to be narrowly partisan.

"It was not established for the purpose of representing any particular clique, but comes to the front unshackled, with the sole aim of laboring for the good of the community from which it receives support," wrote Dallam in his first editorial. "If it is instrumental in a small degree in adding to the progress and development of this part of the great northwest, its efforts will be considered amply rewarded ("Salutatory").

He also added that "no effort will be made to please all" because that would require too much "acrobatic skill with the pen" ("Salutatory").

The Big Scoop

The little weekly soon pulled off one of its biggest scoops, which arrived on Dallam’s desk in the form of an actual scoop -- a scoopful of gold nuggets. Prospector Andrew Prichard showed up in Dallam’s office in the fall of 1883 and poured a pile of gold onto a sheet of paper. The subsequent headlines were the biggest in the young paper's history, stacked one over the other: "Coeur d'Alene Mines! Gold Excitement at Fever Heat! New Developments with Rich Results! A Perfect Stampede into the Diggings! The Richest Placer Mines on the Coast!" ("Coeur d'Alene Mines").

"Copies of this issue of The Review telling of Prichard's sensational discovery were sold throughout the West and as far eastward as St. Paul," wrote historian Ralph E. Dyar, who authored a history of The Spokesman-Review in 1952. "With his little hand press, it was impossible for Dallam to fill all the orders" (Dyar, p. 12).

This story launched a massive mining boom for Spokane and the region. Prospectors soon learned that silver, not gold, was the true precious metal in what would come to be called the Silver Valley of Idaho.  The influx of fortune seekers and mining money also created a lucrative market for this small newspaper. By June 10, 1884, Dallam expanded the weekly Review into a daily called The Spokane Falls Evening Review (the word "Falls" was soon dropped for both the city and the newspaper). Then, in 1885, the paper switched to morning publication and became The Morning Review.

The Chronicle and The Review

The Chronicle, owned by longtime pioneer H. T. Cowley, responded by becoming an evening daily in 1886. The Chronicle and The Review became locked in a war for circulation, but it seemed to be a particularly friendly war, considering that the papers were business and political rivals. Both papers were united in the goal of promoting Spokane's growth and prosperity.

"Throughout Mr. Cowley’s ownership, the most amicable relations existed between the Chronicle and The Review," Dallam said later. "There was no unseemly rivalry, no personalities and the papers worked along common lines in aiding the upbuilding of the place" (Durham, p. 401).

The Chronicle under Cowley, a former missionary, refused to accept ads for liquor and gambling establishments. This gave a marketing advantage to The Review, since liquor and gambling were among the town’s leading industries. Dallam soon acquired several partners. Yet disagreements ensued and in 1887 Dallam sold out to two of his partners, and went to new journalistic and business ventures in Okanogan, Davenport, and Oroville. (However, the Dallam era did not end for good, since his son, Frank Dallam Jr., became the paper's chief editorial writer in 1938.)

New Ownership, New Quarters, New Rival

After several quick changes in ownership, the proprietors of Portland’s Oregonian newspaper bought a major share of The Morning Review in 1888. The newspaper’s offices were moved to its present site on Monroe Street and Riverside Avenue. The offices barely escaped damage in the Great Fire of 1889 and within two years, the Review was building a brick tower on the site. The Review's ambitions were reflected in the scale of the new building: Seven stories, topped with a majestic tower at 165 feet. The term "the Tall Tower" soon became accepted shorthand citywide for The Review.

Meanwhile, in 1890, a new morning newspaper emerged: The Spokesman. It was started by a former part-owner of The Review, Horace T. Brown. The Spokesman started playing up the widespread notion that The Review was no longer truly local; it had been taken over by interlopers from Portland. The Spokesman referred to The Review as "The Spokane Oregonian," "The Morning Alien" and the "Portland Breeze" (Dyar, p. 79).

The Spokesman was partially funded and staffed by several ambitious journalists Brown had recruited from the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Times. One of those investors was William Hutchinson Cowles (1866-1946), the young police reporter of the Chicago Tribune (and the son of the Tribune’s former secretary-treasurer). Cowles was just a couple of years out of Yale University, where he had received both a B.A. and law degree. He had concluded that journalism, not law, was his future. He was clearly an ambitious man -- he was on duty as a police reporter from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. and then attended business school in the afternoon. In 1891, his friends convinced him to leave Chicago and protect his Spokane investment by coming out to The Spokesman as a part-owner and business manager.

Both papers were throwing money into their operations in a desperate effort to gain an advantage. Their mutual antagonism was evident in print. The Review referred to its rival as "The Squaksman" and derided it as the "bogus paper"; The Spokesman referred to The Review as "Portland’s Spokane Offshoot" (Dyar, p. 77, 79). The "bitter hostility" between the two papers was fueled partly by the fact that they represented two different cultural factions within this booming city (Dyar, p. 80).

"On The Review's side were men who had been mauled and shaped by the hardships and dangers of the raw frontier; on The Spokesman's, brilliant graduates of Harvard and Yale," wrote Dyar (Dyar, p. 80).

Both papers published six days a week as part of an unwritten agreement never to publish on Mondays, thus giving both staffs Sundays off. Yet one Sunday night in 1892, a Spokesman staffer walked past the Tall Tower and saw lights inside. He immediately suspected that The Review was planning to start a surprise Monday edition. He was right; the next morning The Review hit the streets with a headline reading "Good Morning! How is this for a surprise party?" (Dyar, p. 78).

The Spokesman had already come up with a surprise of its own; its staff had mobilized late Sunday night and printed their own Monday edition. Both publications became seven-day-a-week papers from that point on.

However, at the beginning of 1893, both morning newspapers were bleeding money. N. W. Durham (1859-1938), The Review's managing editor (and later a regional historian) came to the conclusion that both sides would ultimately lose. So in early 1893, Durham descended the Tall Tower and paid a visit to Cowles at The Spokesman. Durham proposed a consolidation deal. Cowles, tired of carrying The Spokesman's financial burdens, had already been thinking along the same lines. They quickly reached a consolidation agreement, which called for The Spokesman to be shut down and Cowles to become a one-fourth owner of the consolidated paper, which was to be named The Spokane Review.

So when The Spokesman published its final issue in February 1893, the name Spokesman appeared to be dead forever. The Spokane Review became the city's only morning daily (the Chronicle was still going strong in the evenings). Yet the financial panic of 1893 hit Spokane hard and The Spokane Review's revenue plummeted. The mortgage on the Review Tower was a heavy burden on the Portland-based co-owners. Cowles's partners were stretched to the breaking point. On June 28, 1894, Cowles bought them out. He was now the sole owner of the morning paper.

William Cowles's Spokesman-Review

The next morning, June 29, 1894, the paper arrived on Spokane's doorsteps with a new name: The Spokesman-Review. Cowles had revived "Spokesman" and put it first, according to Dyar, because "Review" still carried a Portland taint. The first issue carried an editorial making it clear that Cowles would now control all aspects of the operation.

"The editorial direction, as well as the business management, will from this time be in his [Cowles's] hands," said the editorial. "He has taken up this business as his permanent work, and will devote himself steadily and permanently to assist in building up the interests of the community in which the paper is published" ("To the Public").

He was 27 years old. He would run both the paper's business and editorial operations for the next 50 years. During those early years as publisher, he worked the same hours as some of the reporters and editors -- from about 1 p.m. until press time at 4 a.m. (with a few hours break for dinner at 6 p.m.) That could explain why he suffered a nervous breakdown in 1900 that required him to take an extensive vacation. Except for that incident, however, he was able to "control all his energies to the task he had set himself" (Dyar, p. 95). His physical stamina was particularly notable because he walked with an artificial leg, having lost a leg at age 11 while attempting to climb onto a moving freight car in Chicago.

He did not conform to the stereotype of a gruff and tough newspaperman. He earned a reputation as a considerate and forgiving boss, whose employees were virtually guaranteed jobs for life. He once told a group of fellow publishers, "Just because an employee reveals a fault, we don't dispense with his services" (Dyar, p. 96).

No Friends to Favor or Enemies to Punish

A statement of his journalistic policy was posted for decades on a wall behind the city desk and it said, in part, "The Spokesman-Review has no friends to favor or enemies to punish" and every citizen, high or low, should be "given the privilege of presenting his side of a controversy" (Dyar, p. 97).

True to its origins, the paper leaned Republican on its editorial pages, but Cowles believed that news stories should always be impartial. One of the most sensational stories of the era showed that principle at work. In 1899, a group of striking miners went on an angry rampage and dynamited the gigantic Bunker Hill Mine building (near Kellogg) to smithereens. Reporter Conner Mallott was covering the strike and happened to run across the mob of miners as they raced toward the building. He ended up with the biggest scoop of his life. The paper had shown no sympathy for the strikers on its editorial pages, yet during the height of the conflict, the local sheriff accused Malott of casting the miners in a too-favorable light. Malott, testifying in court later, during the sheriff's subsequent impeachment trials, said his express instructions from his editors were to make an "absolutely impartial report of everything" and that the publisher himself "told me to pound it into the authorities if necessary" (Dyar, p. 121).

Nor did the paper always toe the Republican party line on its editorial pages. In both 1896 and 1900 it endorsed the Democratic candidate, William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925), largely because of his pro-silver stance, which appealed to this silver-producing region. Yet Cowles and the newspaper became particularly enthusiastic fans of the progressive Republican Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), who became a personal friend of Cowles. Cowles once visited Roosevelt at his New York mansion, and Roosevelt lunched at Cowles' home during a Spokane visit. Roosevelt wrote at least 20 personal letters to Cowles.

The Spokesman-Review launched its share of civic crusades. It pushed hard for a progressive commission form of city government, achieved in 1910. It also mounted a long-running drive to put a damper on saloons, gambling houses, risqué "variety" theaters, and bawdy houses. The attempt was mostly in vain, since thousands of loggers and miners showed up in Spokane every weekend looking for exactly those diversions. Yet The Spokesman-Review, which had a significant reformer's streak, contended these activities led only to human misery and civic corruption. One of the paper's accomplishments came in 1901 when the city finally outlawed "rustle box theaters," in which female showgirls presided over private, curtained boxes, and separated men from their paychecks by any means at their disposal.

Prospering and Expanding

As Spokane experienced better economic times, the newspaper began to thrive. The Spokesman-Review's circulation was about 4,000 when Cowles took over in 1894; by 1900, it had more than doubled to above 10,000.  Meanwhile, Cowles had moved to consolidate his hold on Spokane's news business. In 1897, he learned that J. J. Browne was willing to sell his Spokane Daily Chronicle. The evening paper's circulation was about 8,000. Cowles bought the Chronicle in August 1897, kept most of its staff intact and allowed it to maintain its own circulation, advertising, and editorial departments. It continued on as an independent editorial entity for 86 years. Both newsrooms, despite being owned by the same family, remained fiercely competitive rivals until the newsrooms finally merged in 1983. (The Chronicle finally ceased publication in 1992, a victim of a nationwide decline in evening newspaper circulation.)

At the beginning of the 1900s, The Spokesman-Review began to mushroom along with the city. Spokane went from a population of 36,848 in 1900 to 104,402 in 1910 -- one of the biggest population gains in the country. By 1903, the paper was routinely publishing 14 pages daily and up to 40 pages on Sundays. On December 20, 1903, it printed Dickens' A Christmas Carol in full, in a special eight-page section.

Competitors, Comics, Campaigns

The Chronicle acquisition did not leave the field entirely to Cowles. A small but feisty Scripps newspaper, the evening Spokane Press, started in 1902. In 1910, the evening Inland Herald entered the field and began referring to Cowles as a "human hyena."  (The Inland Herald lasted only a year, but the Spokane Press would last until 1939.)

These competitors didn't make much of a dent. The Spokesman-Review's circulation had quadrupled in its first decade. It now had regular sections on the arts, sports, books and society news. That year it also it added its own full-time cartoonist, William C. Morris (1874-1940), whose work appeared on the front page nearly every day. By 1911, The Spokesman-Review's Sunday circulation hit 50,530.

That year, the newspaper started manufacturing its own newsprint. Cowles capitalized on the fact that Spokane sat on the verge of a vast timber domain. His Inland Empire Paper Company built a paper mill just outside the city at Millwood and in 1911 began producing newsprint and other paper products (still operating 100 years later).

By this time, The Spokesman-Review was riding the latest newspaper fad, color comic strips, with titles such as The Newlyweds and Their Baby and Pups. It also ran a syndicated humor page called The Bingville Bugle, about the hillbillies in a fictional town. This feature would have an impact on a certain toddler growing up in Spokane. Little Harry Lillis Crosby used to beg his parents to read that page aloud by yelling, "Bing! Bing!," so they started calling him Bing. That's how Spokane's most famous resident, Bing Crosby, got his nickname. Young Bing later worked as a Spokesman-Review paperboy before becoming, in the 1930s, the most popular entertainer in the world.

Meanwhile Cowles and his garden department editor and columnist, Aubrey L. White (1869-1948) went to work promoting a civic campaign dear to both of their hearts: a "City Beautiful" project aimed at establishing a citywide system of parks and open spaces. The paper pushed zealously for the passage of a $1 million parks bond measure in 1910. It created dozens of new parks, many of which were designed by the famous Olmsted Brothers landscape design firm. Cowles became one of the principle donors of land for these parks.

The Spokesman-Review also took a strong stand on one of the most divisive issues of the era, Prohibition. The paper was strongly "dry"; i.e., anti-saloon, one of the main planks of Progressive politics at the time. In 1920, the paper predicted, far too optimistically, that Prohibition "can be enforced as effectively as any other law" (Dyar, p. 181).

Meanwhile, Cowles dreamed of turning the newspaper over to his two sons, both Yale graduates, one to handle the business side, the other to handle the editorial side. William H. Cowles Jr. (1902-1970) began work in the classified ad department and began working his way up through the business side of the paper, while Cheney Cowles (1908-1943) started as newsroom legman, copy reader, and photographer. W. H. Cowles Jr. became the paper's general manager in 1935, but the rest of the dream died when Major Cheney Cowles was killed in 1943 in an Army plane crash in Alabama.

A Firefighter's Crime

The Spokesman-Review itself narrowly escaped tragedy in 1927 when a large 15-pound coffee can, containing 102 sticks of dynamite, was discovered near a support pillar at the newspaper's front entrance. A fuse had burned to within three inches of the explosives. If it had gone off, the Review Tower and surrounding buildings would have collapsed. While police were investigating the mystery, a city firefighter named Henry Ilse showed up at Cowles' home and offered to tell him the identity of the "powerful, secret organization," behind the bomb plot -- for a fee of $50,000 (Dyar, p. 202).

Suspicion soon centered on Ilse himself, since it turned out he had purchased both the coffee can and the dynamite. When Ilse went to trial, he maintained he was framed by a powerful cabal of his fellow firefighters, who wanted to punish both The Spokesman-Review for its editorial stance on fire department issues, and Ilse himself, against whom they held a grudge. He claimed these other firefighters broke into his house, stole the can, stole the dynamite and planted the bomb themselves. A jury didn't necessarily buy his entire story, but they concluded the case against Ilse had not been sufficiently proved. They acquitted him.

However, the saga was not finished. In 1930, a trunk was delivered anonymously to the Associated Press office in the Chronicle building, which was attached to the Review Tower building. It was found to contain 106 sticks of dynamite and a clock attached to a battery. One of the battery terminals had been broken off, preventing detonation. A San Francisco man turned himself into police and confessed to being hired by Ilse to make and deliver the bomb. The accomplice said he did it because he needed the money ($250, plus expenses), but he didn't want to hurt anybody. So he deliberately broke off the terminal so the bomb wouldn't go off. This time, a jury convicted Ilse. He received a 30-year sentence and died in jail. The accomplice received five years of probation.

Renowned Columnists 

The Spokesman-Review spawned several columnists who became known beyond Spokane. The first was Stoddard King (1889-1933), a Spokane-raised and Yale-educated man who had a gift for songwriting, poetry, and column-writing. He began producing a column called "Facetious Fragments" in 1916, which often contained a humorous poem. His verses were reprinted in the Saturday Evening Post and Life magazine, and were collected in four books. "There's a Long, Long Trail," a song for which he wrote the lyrics, became one of the most popular songs of World War I.

Two of the paper's best columnists were women -- at a time when women were struggling to be accepted in newsrooms. The first was Margaret Bean, a stylist who painted prose pictures of Spokane and its people from 1919 through the 1940s. Her Sunday column, "From the Tree Tops," was bylined simply "M.B." Not all of her subjects were happy to learn that "M.B." was a woman. When she showed up to interview the visiting Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat allegedly said, "I just can't talk to no jane reporter" (Dyar, p. 337).

After the Bean era, another fine stylist, Dorothy Powers (1921-2014), made her mark for decades in The Spokesman-Review. In 1960, she became the first woman to win the Ernie Pyle Memorial Award, one of the top honors in column-writing. Her winning columns included an account of a hobo jungle, conditions in a local mental hospital, and an upside-down trip in an Air Force jet. The award citation said she "has the heart, the soul and the insight of a woman Ernie Pyle" ("Dorothy Powers").

End of an Era

The paper reached a turning point when W. H. Cowles, 79, the only publisher the paper had ever known, died on January 15, 1946, and was succeeded by W. H. Cowles Jr. The elder Cowles had run the paper for over 50 years. As a member of the Associated Press board of directors since 1911, he had also played a prominent role in national journalism. On his death, The New York Times said he was "recognized as a power in the Northwest, especially because of his Spokesman-Review, which is noted for its editorial and typographical excellence" (Dyar, p. 468).

Not everyone agreed with the "excellence" part of that statement, notably President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972). Truman made the following remark while stopping in Spokane for a whistle-stop tour in 1948: "The Chicago Tribune and this paper are the worst in the United States" (Felknor).

Truman was not particularly familiar with The Spokesman-Review, but he did know that it was firmly Republican and not exactly friendly to Truman's Democratic administration. The Spokesman-Review, flattered at being compared to the Chicago Tribune, trumpeted Truman's statement the next day. It would become a much-repeated nugget of Spokane cultural lore.

The Paper and the Expo

The region was in the economic doldrums for much of the 1950s and 1960s, but the newspaper thrived during that era, reaching an all-time circulation peak of around 169,000 on Sundays (which included a number of Chronicle subscribers since the Chronicle had no Sunday edition). The advertising and business sides of the two papers were now combined, although the newsrooms continued to be rivals. The Cowles family owned not only the city's two daily newspapers, but also the city's NBC-TV affiliate and two radio stations.

Spokane emerged on the world stage in 1974 with Expo '74, Spokane's World's Fair. This was a hugely ambitious project -- Spokane was the smallest city ever to attempt a World's Fair. By this time, the paper had a new publisher, William H. Cowles 3rd (1932-1992), who took over when his father died in 1970. He became an enthusiastic backer of the Expo '74 idea and the paper worked hard to promote this unprecedented civic venture. It turned out to be a popular success, attracting five million visitors.

The Coe Case

In late 1970s and early 1980s, the Spokane Daily Chronicle -- The Spokesman-Review 's sister paper -- found itself part of the biggest local story of the era, the Kevin Coe/South Hill Rapist story. Just weeks after Chronicle managing editor Gordon Coe (1916-1999) had written an editorial about the city's rash of unsolved rape cases, his own son, Frederick Harlan "Kevin" Coe (b. 1947), was arrested in connection with the rapes. After a series of sensational trials, Kevin Coe was convicted on a rape charge.

The story was covered aggressively by The Spokesman-Review, especially by columnist Chris Peck, who wrote the first piece alerting the community to the fact that a serial rapist was at work in the city. In 1982, Peck would be named managing editor of The Spokesman-Review. During Peck's tenure as top editor -- he would leave in 2001 -- the newspaper would reach highs in both circulation and journalistic ambition.

To Be the Best

The paper was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for spot news in 1993 for its coverage of the 11-day standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992, between an armed white separatist and a small army of federal lawmen. One of The Spokesman-Review's reporters on that story, Jess Walter (b. 1965) went on to write a book about the incident, Every Knee Shall Bow, which launched his career as a bestselling author.

During the 1990s and 2000s, reporters Bill Morlin and Karen Dorn Steele produced many investigative pieces, often as a team and sometimes separately. Dorn Steele pursued the complicated legacy of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and Morlin doggedly pursued the Aryan Nations, a white supremacist group in nearby Idaho. That kind of coverage provoked the third bomb incident in the paper's history in 1996, when masked men set off a bomb outside The Spokesman-Review 's Spokane Valley bureau office. The bomb "shattered windows and rattled teeth" but no one was injured ("Robbers"). Three Idaho white supremacist/anti-government terrorists were later convicted for the bombing, which had been part of a diversion to cover up an ensuing bank robbery.

Peck and publisher William Stacey Cowles (b. 1960), who had taken over on the death of W. H. Cowles 3rd in 1992, articulated a publicly stated goal for their newspaper throughout the 1990s: to be the best paper of its size in the country. The November-December 1999 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review ranked The Spokesman-Review at No. 23 in its ranking of the best 25 newspapers in the country (as voted on by other editors). Every other paper on the Top 25 list was in a larger market.

Challenges and Changing Times

Yet the newspaper was not without its challenges. In the mid-1990s, the paper found itself making news, instead of just reporting it, in connection with the River Park Square parking garage issue, a controversial public-private partnership in a downtown mall development project. Accusations flew about biased coverage and serious conflicts of interest, because the mall's development companies were subsidiaries of Cowles Publishing Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

In the mid- to late-1990s, the Spokesman-Review had a newsroom staff of 164 (with 670 employees at the paper overall), and a Sunday circulation of 152,615. Yet circulation and advertising revenue began to drop as the century turned, reflecting a nationwide downturn in the fortunes of daily newspapers. The paper began to build its online news content at in response to new readership trends. Yet online revenue proved to be no match for declining print revenue. The Spokesman-Review laid off 25 newsroom employees in 2001. Peck resigned as editor and was replaced in 2002 by Steven A. Smith.

The Case of Mayor Jim West

The paper made national news in 2005 when it conducted a controversial investigation into Spokane Mayor Jim West (1951-2006). The paper caught West trolling the internet for gay sex -- using city computers -- after the paper hired an undercover computer consultant to pose online as a high school senior interested in meeting older men. West was also accused of offering city positions to young men in whom he was interested. West, a state Republican leader, had been on record as opposing gay rights issues. West called the stories "sloppy and malicious" and a personal vendetta against him ("Evaluating"). Yet the stories resulted in West being removed from office in 2005 in the city's first-ever mayoral recall election.

Journalistic opinion over the paper's methods was split. In November 2006, the PBS show Frontline aired an episode about the West story titled "A Hidden Life," which was critical of the newspaper's coverage and methods. The New York Times, in a review of the Frontline episode, called it "a story of character assassination" (Heffernan). Yet the paper won the University of Oregon's Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism in 2006 for the series.

An Enduring Legacy

Meanwhile, more layoffs came in 2004 and 2007. Then in 2008, the paper cut another quarter of its newsroom staff, bringing the newsroom count below 100 and the total workforce to 470. Smith resigned after announcing these layoffs. At that time, W. Stacey Cowles said the paper's goal had not changed: to be "among the best daily newspapers of our size" ("SR To Cut").  However, he also said, "we are not immune to market forces" ("SR To Cut"). Gary Graham, who had been managing editor under Smith, took over as editor, and remained in that position as of 2012.

As of 2012, The Spokesman-Review remains a rarity in journalism -- a locally owned paper. It is still owned and operated by the Cowles Publishing Co., whose origins stretch back to the day in 1891 when a young and ambitious Chicago police reporter came west to help manage a small daily. In March 2012, the newspaper's circulation was 69,181 daily and 87,694 Sunday. The paper continued to shift toward electronic delivery methods and on-line reporting.

Both the Review Tower and the newspaper itself remain as historic Spokane institutions. That first edition in 1883 came out one day late, but since then it has not missed another day in nearly 130 years.

Sources: Ralph E. Dyar, News for an Empire (Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1952); N.W. Durham, History of City of Spokane and Spokane County, Washington, Vol. 1, (Spokane, Chicago, Philadelphia: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912); "Explanation," Spokane Falls Review, May 19, 1883, p. 3; "Bear Picnic," The Spokane Falls Review, May 19, 1883, p. 3; "Salutatory," The Spokane Falls Review, May 19, 1883, p. 2; "Coeur d'Alene Mines," The Spokane Falls Review, September 22, 1883, p. 2; "To the Public," The Spokesman-Review , June 29, 1894, p. 2; "Dorothy Powers Wins Ernie Pyle Award," The Spokesman-Review , January 8, 1960, p.1; "Robbers Bomb Valley Offices," The Spokesman-Review , April 2, 1996. P. 1; "Spokesman-Review lays off 14 in newsroom," The Spokesman-Review, November 2, 2007, p. B-1; Chris Peck, "Hard Work in Spokane Turns Heads," The Spokesman-Review, November 14, 1999, p. B-7; "Newspaper Announces Job Cutbacks," The Spokesman-Review, July 4, 2001, p. A-8; "SR to Cut 60 Positions, Editor Resigns," The Spokesman-Review, October 2, 2008, p. A-1; Rich Roesler, "Evaluating the Paper's Coverage," The Spokesman-Review, November 20, 2005, p. A-9; Virginia Heffernan, "Scars of a Sting Operation Prove to Be Permanent," The New York Times, November 14, 2006; Joe Strupp, "Spokane Probe: Other Editors Say They Forbid Undercover Operations," Editor & Publisher, May 10, 2005, Editor & Publisher accessed July 20, 2012 (; Rhea Felknor, "Truman Blames 2 Newspapers for 'Worst U.S. Congress,'" The Spokesman-Review, June 10, 1948. p. 1.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You