If you are a long time reader of the Huckleberry Press, you have been privy to the evolution of this “old-school-style publication illuminating the essence of Americana.” What’s behind all these changes? How did this tiny newspaper of mostly ads come to highlight “the richness of our region’s events, small businesses, and the people that make each town unique”? How did the Huckleberry Press expand from strictly print available in a few locations to 13 Inland NW counties and an online presence, including video, on the hottest social media sites?
The evolution of the Huckleberry Press began exactly eight years ago, when a man from Seattle brought his big dream for a little newspaper to rural Eastern Washington. At the time, the Huckleberry Press was little more than a once a month, multi-page circular.
In 2015, Val Mohney took a leap of faith and moved into the woods near Davenport, Washington. He was longing for a simpler life reflecting his values, especially a sense of community. He acquired a plethora of animals, from dogs and cats, to chickens to ducks, and even a completely domesticated turkey.
He also acquired a little newspaper, called the Huckleberry Press. This was an interesting midlife choice considering newsprint had been going the wayside in recent years. But Val had faith that this little community newspaper could be something special. Did Val anticipate the amount of blood, sweat and tears it would take to nurture this publication into the community asset he envisioned? Absolutely not. Did he predict how he and the paper would become woven into the fabric of the community? Also no…
From the search for meaningful community stories to the challenges from a pandemic, I had the honor to witness, and sometimes experience these growing pains. Fate brought me to work with Val and the Huckleberry Press team.
That fateful evening was in 2017. I ran into Val at our 30-year high school reunion. Our history, however, goes even further back. We sat together in English class at North Pines Junior High School, where we spoke every day. Meeting again at the reunion, it had been at least 33 years since we had spoken.
Val didn’t even recognize me at first. He had to lean in, read my name tag with my high school graduation photo. Then that nod of recognition and smile as he said my name aloud. I was happy he remembered me.
As we began to catch up, the first things we learned about each other was that Val was the owner and publisher of a local newspaper called the Huckleberry Press, and I was an aspiring writer, working on my first book. There was a long pause and I saw Val’s wheels spinning immediately.
“I could use a writer for the newspaper. Are you interested?”
Thus began the renewal of a friendship and the fulfillment of a dream. Of course I was interested. I had dreamed of being a bona fide writer my whole life.
I had just experienced a little of Val’s magic– what I call the “Mohney Magic.” It’s what Val does and what makes the Huckleberry Press special. It’s the raison d’etre for the Huckleberry Press’s evolution. Val makes connections. Val builds community. These are his superpowers.
Initially we talked a lot about his vision for the paper. And Val shared his frustrations with trying to grow the paper when it took so much time just to run the paper. Val talked extensively about his values, what was important to him and how he could realize these through the paper. If I had a dollar for every time I heard him say the word “community”, “collaboration” or “connection” during those talks, I swear I’d be a millionaire. He wanted to be out in the community making connections and collaborating. Instead he was spending all of his time delivering the papers.
But Val’s magic began to work. He made more and more connections in the community. He and his team of writers began to find and tell the kind of stories Val had envisioned for the paper, stories about people who make a difference, from small businesses, to nonprofits, to individuals.
Three Simple Words
With the anniversary of eight years of Huckleberry Press ownership and the recent growth of the paper, now seemed a good time to ask Val to reflect on where the paper’s been and where it’s going. I asked Val what’s in the works. Val’s vision for the paper has become even more clear.
When asked about this vision, he says: “Three simple words. Making a difference. We want to focus on making a difference.”
While the current HP team is a super small, grassroots, “bootstrapping operation” with limited resources, Val is aspiring to expand. Val-ues are clearly articulated to those interested in joining: “We’re building our team with folks looking for opportunities to connect with the communities they live, work, and play in. Small businesses and big hearts are the core of the Huckleberry Press. We create collaborative partnerships.
“The Huckleberry Press team is growing because they see the vision of making a difference. We’re gonna continue to build upon that. ”
As one example of this vision, Val shared about a recent article. Val loved this article because it featured just a “regular guy” who stepped up to do what he could to make a difference. Did he give away millions? No. Did he make great sacrifices? Not really. This run-of-the-mill guy, Aaron Reese, stood on a corner in Spokane every Monday for a year holding yellow signs bearing encouraging messages.
“What did you love so much about this story?” I asked Val.
“Color and positivity,” he replied. “Because he was colorful and positive and he executed an idea and he made a lot of people happy. I’m especially drawn to people like that. I want to work with people like him. And like Kenyan artist Nicholas Sironka, who was featurd in a recent issue. He’s also colorful and inspiring. And if we tell a story that inspires someone else on their journey to make a difference, that would be a great expression of the (HP’s) mission.”
“How do you articulate that mission?” I ask.
“The Huckleberry Press will make an impact in a community by connecting readers with their neighbors and the businesses that support them,” he reads to me.
“You talk a lot about community.”
“Of course. The Huckleberry Press is a community based project that can only happen with the community engaging with us. And we’re out there involved with the community, with advertisers, networking. Making a contribution with our storytelling. Raising awareness. Shining light on all the great works of community members. We belong to the Chamber of Commerces in Colville, Moses Lake, West Plains, Greater Spokane Valley, and Greater Spokane Incorporated. We’re members of the Senior Action Network of Eastern Washington and Spokane Small Business and Entrepreneur Group.”
“Despite having such a small team, the paper’s made some huge changes,” I reflect.
“Yes. We’re no longer just a newspaper. We’ve become a multimedia company which the newspaper is part of. We have a new website that’s invited us to go multimedia. The updated website is much more colorful. Content is more accessible. It promotes the Huckleberry Press better. Visiting the website gives a sense of what it’s about.”
“Tell me about the new video features.”
“Sure. We now include video with the articles. So we have articles printed in the paper, posted online, and a video attached. We promote on FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.”
“And I understand your team is growing?”
“Yes! Our new salesperson Heather Bopp is doing a phenomenal job networking and birddogging stories. We’ve added delivery drivers and writers. Things are moving faster because I’m freed up to network. In the past I was doing most everything myself, with minimal help… Now I can focus on multimedia.”
“It sounds like we’ve hit the big time!”
“Not yet. But we’re picking up momentum. The pandemic really slowed us down for a couple of years. We had no events to promote. It was impossible to network. But we survived.”
“What do you attribute that survival to?”
“We’re small but mighty. We persevered. And against all odds, we survived. We’ve come so far, such a long way. Now we’re just waiting to be discovered.”
“How does that happen?”
“Increasing readership, for one. We’ve started by increasing distribution. Last year we added 17 stops on the South Hill and 7 stops in Liberty Lake. We’re now on stands in every Yoke’s. It’s also about inspiring readers with stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I’d like to think we’re going to catch on. I can personally be more effective, move more energy, by networking more, by being out in the community talking about us.”
I would describe that as Val using his superpowers to make the Mohney Magic
“I’m trying to plant seeds with the intention to grow. I envision a future as a large multimedia company. But we’re always going to be grassroots and community focused.”
“Any last words?”
“I’m grateful. We get a lot of help from a lot of different people. Every issue represents a slice of a community. Everyone showing up is what makes it happen. I appreciate all of that. I appreciate all the people making it happen and all the inspiration from the community.”
To see videos of community members and more inspiring stories of people making a difference in the community, check out the new-and-improved Huckleberry Press website at huckleberrypress.com.
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