Why would anyone want to start an Online Newspaper?

September 5, 2011

by Martha Martin

A great question, and the more I get into this process the more I ask it.

Let’s start with the obvious.  I have observed what seems to be  a HUGE need for more information and good media in our neglected corner of the county – East Clark County.  I hear this over and over from the locals, about how frustrated they are with the lack of good information.  We are media dry, as they say.  We do have two newspapers, one that covers the two cities of Camas and Washougal, and the other that tries to cover the rest of Clark County.  Both are experimenting with online versions of themselves.

The biggest problem is that our area is overshadowed by the Portland Metro area with its newspapers, public television, and radio.  Unless something “scandalous” happens, the coverage for our neck of the woods is almost non-existent.  Yet there is much happening beyond the limited scandals that garner any readers’ attention.

Beyond the apparent need is my connection to community.  I have roots here, and one of the ways I get to know what is happening is to talk with the locals….and boy do they talk!  There is a lot to talk about.  I want to get that information out to people.  They need to know.  They want to know.

It’s very possible that genetics plays a role in getting involved with community and ultimately a newspaper. Or it could be sheer inspiration from one or two of my ancestors? In keeping with good journalism, I did some research on my own background and found some history that could be responsible.  Let me share with you what I found.

Felix Sexton, Great Great GrandfatherMy Great Great grandfather (pictured) on my mother’s side, Felix “Fel” Sexton was Sheriff of Wasco county, and member of the firm of Sexton & Walther, dealers in hardware and implements, at The Dalles, Oregon.  He was initially “appointed deputy sheriff by the then Sheriff Robert Kelly. In June, 1902, Felix was elected to the office of sheriff of Wasco county, receiving a majority of five hundred and seven on the Republican ticket, running ahead of his ticket two hundred votes. He served nearly every season as delegate to county conventions and always took as active an interest in politics as his business would permit.” [1]  That mustache is something to be admired.

Lee Harold Sexton, the son of Sheriff Felix Sexton and my great uncle, spent an even longer time as Sheriff of Wasco County — 24 years — from 1929 to 1953.  His wife, Veda Sexton, was a Deputy Sheriff, serving under her husband from 1940 to 1952.  My father tells me that Harold rode horseback to cover his district, which was hundreds of square miles.  Quite a challenge.

When Harold Sexton left the Sheriff’s Office, he went on to become the United States Marshal for the District of Oregon from 1953 to 1958 and was a Bailiff for the Multnomah County Circuit Court in 1959. [2]

What do these people have to do with me wanting to  start a newspaper?  To me, they are part of the history that shaped who I have become.  Their lives were intertwined with their community as public servants and business owners.   I have followed in their footsteps by also being actively involved in my community.  To me, a newspaper is simply another way to continue that involvement.

My role model and journalistic inspiration is my grandfather Marion Sexton, my mother’s father and grandson of Felix Sexton.  In 1936, Marion Sexton was “the first editor of the Goldendale Sentinel, being here over 2 years.” [3] This was the beginning of my grandfather’s newspaper career, among other interests.

In the 1940s, Marion Sexton “opened the Mid-County Record in Battle Ground, and in 1946 it was merged with the Ridgefield Reflector to become the Mid-County Reflector, covering both towns and the surrounding area. In 1959, the paper moved permanently to Battle Ground, where it is still published today as The Reflector.”[4] I think of him every time I read this historic newspaper.

Here is something that I did not know about my grandfather, and found in my research.  On March 9, 1940, “the Fort Vancouver Restoration and Historical Society formed to continue the local support for a monument at Fort Vancouver. The original board of directors included Henry Rasmussen, president, Ray Bachman, the publisher of The Columbian, Roy Seeley, Chas. Mook, P.M. Kane, H.J. Kesler, and (my grandfather ) Marion Sexton.” [5]  He was part of the first people to begin preservation efforts for the Fort Vancouver Historical site.

He threw his hat in the ring politically, and in 1941, my grandfather was elected to the State of Washington House of Representatives, District 17 (at that time).  He also later ran for Mayor of Vancouver, and was defeated.

In 1945, my grandfather was commercial manager and broadcaster at KVAN radio in Vancouver, Washington.  Here is a picture of him, posing for the camera, as he does a radio news program.  Note the double breasted suit, and realize that he is only 35 years old at this time.

My grandfather later relocated to Hawaii, and started a local paper called the Windward Reporter out of Kailua, Oahu.  He became president of the newly formed Rotary Club in 1953, and remained in Hawaii until his death in the mid 1970’s.

My mother, Ernestine (Sexton) Martin had aspirations of becoming a journalist, but found herself raising three children, becoming involved in her community (she was chair of the Washougal Planning Commission in the late 1960’s), and was a piano teacher for over 15 years.

So, once again we are back to the question “Why would anyone want to start an online newspaper?”  I’m doing this because I’m part of my community, I’m inspired by my grandfather, and I see a need for another kind of media resource; one that gives a voice to our community.    I have never officially been a journalist until now, but I have written professionally about many things.   I’m a lot like my grandfather.  He was a self-starter, creative, and from what I remember of him, bigger than life.  I am proud that my grandfather became the voice that people read or heard on radio.  I can imagine what he might say to me if I asked him “I want to do this, so how do I go about it?”  that he would respond “Just jump in, use what you have, and you will figure it out”.  Are you watching me grandpa?  Here we go……

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[1] Extracted from the Oregon Bios Project, January 2005

[2] An Illustrated History of Central Oregon, Western Historical Publishing Co., Spokane, WA 1905, pg. 368.

[3] The Goldendale Sentinel, Goldendale, WA., January 4, 1945, page 1

[4] From: Battle Ground — Thumbnail History HistoryLink.org Essay 9321.

[5] From Chapter Two: THE CREATION OF FORT VANCOUVER NATIONAL MONUMENT