Haak-Frost: Will McAvoy, Don Quixote, and Watershed Voice’s Spring Member Drive

Spain Square, the popular tourist destination at the western end of the Gran Via Avenue in Madrid, Spain, features a monument to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quixote.

I’m often asked, “What is Watershed Voice?” But I think the better question is “Who is Watershed Voice?” Because I could tell you that Watershed is a Three Rivers-based nonprofit and online news magazine serving St. Joseph, Cass, and Kalamazoo Counties but that’s just the headline.

Watershed Voice started in my head years ago, long before I was a staff writer or managing editor of the Three Rivers Commercial-News (2016-2020). From my Mount Pleasant, Michigan dorm room, sometime around 2007, 2008, I dreamed about working for publications like Grantland (now defunct), The Village Voice, Harper’s Magazine, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. But it never occurred to me that I could start a publication of my own, and certainly not one of the same caliber as any of the aforementioned longform giants. That was until a classmate of mine said in passing one day that he intended to buy his hometown newspaper once he graduated.

I couldn’t have fathomed such a thing. 

I didn’t come from money (based on my classmate’s car and his thousands of dollars’ worth of camera equipment, I assumed he did), so while the seed was planted in my head, I never expected I’d ever be in a position to cultivate it. Fast forward to January 2020, and a day that would completely change the trajectory of my career as a journalist. I was downsized after the Commercial was forced to go from a daily to a weekly publication. I was recently married, a new homeowner, and in possession of my first new car, with no way to pay for any of it. For a moment I was “terrified, mortified, petrified, stupefied” by my situation, unsure where to go or what to do next.

Then I remembered I wasn’t the only person in town who dreamed of being a publisher. Over several drinks over several years at the Riviera Theatre & Bar, I had spoken with the likes of Three Rivers Mayor Tom Lowry and nonprofit extraordinaire/journalism enthusiast Rob Vander Giessen-Reitsma about how much it would take to buy the Commercial-News, and transform it into a different kind of a publication. As it turns out, the answer was “too much” and “not in this lifetime.”

But the three of us had learned to do a whole lot with very little most of our lives, and like any good entrepreneurs we were crazy enough to think we could do what many had tried but failed to do in the past. So with a shoestring budget, a shared knowledge of how to run a business, a newspaper, and design a website, and with the spirit of Don Quixote in our hearts, we were on “a mission to civilize.” (Shoutout to fellow Central Michigan alum Jeff Daniels, aka The Newsroom’s Will McAvoy)

Here we are three years later, and what started as an idea in the head of a broke journalism student 15 years ago, has blossomed into a national-award-winning publication thanks in no small part to the efforts of dozens. So when you’re considering whether to subscribe and/or donate to Watershed Voice remember that it’s not just “what” but also “who” Watershed is that makes it worth supporting.

I hope you’ll consider joining us in our mission to make our community a more connected, more well-informed, and more “civilized” place by participating in our Spring Member Drive over the next two weeks. With news outlets across the country closing their doors, and news deserts cropping up like an invasive species, local journalism needs community support now more than ever. And as the great Don Quixote once uttered, “There’s a remedy for everything except death.” So let’s figure this out together, yeah?

My best,

Alek Haak-Frost
Executive Editor and Publisher
Watershed Voice