By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
By any standard, Tacoma Daily Index is very strange newspaper.
On a near daily basis, for 131 years, The Index has documented the fine print on the history of Tacoma and outlying areas.
And yet, many local residents have never seen a copy.
Some of us who work with the paper have heard it described as “Tacoma’s oldest newspaper you’ve never heard of”.
That is mostly true – and, in most cases, you should be thankful that your name (or business) is NOT mentioned within its pages.
Our focus as a paper is what you might call the bad news of our area – foreclosures, bankruptcies, lawsuits and divorces (but we also list business licenses and the intricate details on mortgages, liens and name changes) and, of course, more fine print than the average person would ever want to see on the details on probate. And property sales (as in auctions) and calls for bids and RFPs (Requests For Proposals).
Tacoma Daily Index, to put it bluntly, isn’t read by everyone. But this little paper has persisted for over 130 years for a very simple reason – it has an essential niche in the journalistic and economic ecosystem of Tacoma.
For one reference, if you look at the tags on most of the grand old trees of Wright Park, virtually all were planted in 1895.
Tacoma was incorporated in 1875, and like every city, saw multiple newspapers come and go.
Tacoma Daily Index was never one of the major newspapers in town.
The big papers attracted even bigger companies that bought and sold them and, all too often, led local newspapers to be less and less truly local.
Tacoma Daily Index is a pioneer in what could be called hyper-local news.
If you have lived in Tacoma/Pierce County for very long, you are likely to see a familiar name or two in any given issue,
Like the newspaper, Tacoma itself is a very strange place.
As the US Census Bureau puts it, the city has an area of 62.34 square miles of which 49.72 square miles is land and 12.62 square miles is water. (How many cities can, or would want to, claim over 12 square miles of water as its territory?)
Tacoma, the city, took its name from the native word for the mountain looming over the city. (One day that beautiful and potentially destructive mountain will reclaim its original Native name.)
Tacoma is perhaps best known around the world for the collapse of its first Narrows Bridge, popularly known as “Galloping Gertie”, in 1940.
This engineering failure was filmed, and has been studied for decades. It has entered the territory of urban legends and is perhaps the first example of “if there’s no video, it didn’t happen”.
Few would care about the collapse of a bridge without that little film clip.
Tacoma has had more than its share of catastrophes, disasters, scandals and shady characters.
Wild promises, vivid dreams and quick getaways are the tools of the trade in Tacoma.
From the railroads to politicians, people and promises come and go like our volatile and unpredictable weather.
In fact I would argue that these memorable events and persons, many of which have been listed within our pages, make Tacoma the interesting, contradictory place we all know and love (or fear).
Tacoma’s downtown used to have a thriving Chinatown (emptied out in anti-Chinese rage in 1885) and a Japantown with flourishing businesses, schools and churches (and a public market that rivalled, if not exceeded, Seattle’s Pike Place Market). The relocation camps of World War II put an end to that community.
In short, The Index is woven through the history of Tacoma almost as long as the city itself has existed.
For local history buffs, the Tacoma Public Library has bound copies of the Index going back several decades and loose copies going back to November of 1916.
All of Tacoma’s promise, scandals and “dirty laundry” can be found within our pages.
Sometimes when I tell people where I work, they ask me where the paper is based (spoiler alert; it’s Tacoma) and then they ask how often it comes out – that would be, ahem, daily. (The word “daily” has a very specific meaning; The Index comes out every standard working day – not on weekends or holidays.)
And when they ask me where to get a copy, I tell then it is subscription only (except for three vending machines at or near city or county offices).
And, no, it’s not a “free” paper.
You have to want our paper.
The Index does essentially no marketing, doesn’t take ads and has a small, but dedicated subscriber base.
And no, we don’t run letters to the editor.
You won’t find late breaking news here, but you will find notes, facts and statements that stand the test of time.
We follow almost none of the rules of a standard newspaper.
And yes, our focus is legal notices.
They are not for everybody, but when you need solid background data, you’ll find it on our pages.
If you are starting a business, or have one now, or are even thinking about starting one, The Index has all that you need in terms of resources, vendors, potential investors and maybe even a few warnings about pitfalls or upcoming trends.
You never know what, or who, you’ll find on these pages.
You just might find a life-altering opportunity in that fine print.