The Pacific Northwest is known for its gorgeous scenery — majestic mountains, tall forests, and deep-blue ocean — but the Instagram accounts of its local newspapers tell a more in-depth story of the region’s history, culture, and current events.

Here’s how outlets such as The Seattle Times, The Oregonian, The Idaho Statesman and Montana’s Billings Gazette are increasingly using Instagram as a way to tell their local stories, capture new audiences, and stay relevant in today’s social media-driven landscape.

Covering Washington State

Let’s begin with The Seattle Times, which offers a mix of local news, sports, food, arts, and culture photography on its Instagram feed alongside the quintessential outdoor shots.

“We do the more classic things you would think of on Instagram, such as landscapes and sunsets, but people really do want to take in news, too,” says Colin Diltz, a photo/multimedia specialist at The Seattle Times, which is the largest daily newspaper in Washington state. “It’s a great outdoor area, but there’s a lot more to Seattle than outdoors.”

Gucci stores, sleek high-rises, vinotype testing. Not to mention Seattle’s hotter-than-hot housing market. While some prosper, others struggle to survive in this booming metropolis. In Pacific NW magazine this week and next, reporter Tyrone Beason and photographer Erika Schultz explore Seattle’s equally thrilling and worrying rise as a tech hub, global hot spot and real estate boomtown, a surge that’s redefining ideas about wealth, getting ahead and just getting by. Today’s photos will feature how the city’s new wealth is reshaping the region. And beginning Thursday, the reporting duo will share stories about the high cost of the city’s success, which in the current boom, has been a bust for some. Here, cranes punctuate the view of the booming South Lake Union neighborhood for patrons enjoying the rooftop deck at Mbar restaurant on a warm summer night. (📷 by @erikajschultz / The Seattle Times) To read this week’s feature, visit http://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/money-changes-everything-will-seattle-figure-out-how-to-deal-with-its-new-wealth/ , or tap the link in our IG bio. #Seattle #SLU #SouthLakeUnion #SpaceNeedle

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For instance, Diltz says his paper’s Instagram feed shows how Seattle is changing with an influx of new money, reshaping neighborhoods across the city. It has also driven up the price of housing and is creating an affordability crisis for some residents. “It’s interesting to see how the city is dealing with it,” Diltz says. “You can find a lot of visually driven photo stories that showcase the issue.”

The Seattle Times Instagram feed also uses photos — and the accompanying captions — to tell stories about a lot of other social issues such as homelessness, aging infrastructure, public transit, and even recent changes to the iconic Pike Place Market. “We try to create a small story with out captions, but still lead with the best photo. We want people to stop […], read the caption, and if they’re interested, try to find the story online,” Diltz says.

We invited residents of several homeless encampments in Seattle to share their personal stories, life lessons, frustrations and dreams based on their experiences living without permanent shelter. “Anybody can end up homeless … we never thought it would be “us.” We make the best out of our situation and do what we can to keep our small community clean. We try to enspire others to never quit. It’s been tough but its going to get better. Always push what’s inside you.” – Leo B, 2-Paw, Biggie, Marie B. (📷 by @erikajschultz / The Seattle Times)⠀ ⠀ See more responses by going to http://projects.seattletimes.com/2017/portraits-of-homelessness/⠀ ⠀ Look at our feed more homelessness stories posting today.⠀ ⠀ #seattle #seahomeless #homelessness

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Of course, photos of the city’s professional sports teams, as well as day-in-the-life shots and images from the arts and culture scene, have also become quite popular with followers; recently, an action shot of a nun out for a run captured a lot of attention.

Diltz says his team tries to post about three to five photos a day, choosing the best from staff photographers and the occasional drawing from in-house artist Gabi Campanario, who did this creative take on the city’s affordable housing crisis.”We are always trying to find the best photo [or illustration] that tells the story,” Diltz says. The Times also features user-generated content (UGC) photos taken by winners of its weekly Reader’s Lens photo contest.

Some of the intricacies of Instagram mean there are some technical challenges to posting effective visual content. “Something that looks good six columns [more horizontal] in newsprint may not look good as a square photo on your Instagram feed on your phone,” says Diltz. As it stands, the paper doesn’t make a point of asking photographers to shoot in an Instagram-friendly way, although some media outlets have already made this social-first call.

Goings On In Oregon

Like its Seattle counterpart, The Oregonian‘s Instagram feed mixes scenic photos and video from around the region with news, sports, and lifestyle shots to showcase life in and around its home base in Portland. (Animals are also popular, as they are on most media platforms, including shots of dogs on the beach and alpacas that were on display at the Portland Expo Center in May).

The Oregonian, which is the state’s largest news organization, also uses Instagram as a digital storytelling platform, using it to delve deeper into stories about broader social issues. Take the recent pictures of Portland’s annual naked bike ride: The event is a statement against society’s dependence on fossil fuels, as well as an event to promote body positivity and to raise road-safety awareness.

In the photo below, the photographer captured a young, smiling, and completely naked woman (minus the socks, boots, and clever PG-13 positioning). Whether on the front page of the newspaper or a photo in an Instagram feed, the picture is meant to be a conversation starter. It goes to show that newspaper photo teams’ composition and editing skills are indeed transferrable in the digital era.

Eyes On Idaho

Over in Idaho, the Boise-based Idaho Statesman features photography about local news and culture across the Treasure Valley region. Photos help tell stories, like that of Van Danielson, whose home burned down a year ago and how he’s struggling in the aftermath. The newspaper has also used Instagram to tell unfolding news stories, such as how the hot housing market has buyers fighting for their dream homes.

There’s a great shot that shows a stoic, straight-faced man and his grandson after learning that Bow Wow Auto Parts is closing its doors after 45 years in business, leaving without a mechanic to restore their 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. The photo shows the duo seated inside the dusty old vehicle, with its rusted hood and shining round headlights, with a lighthearted caption that reads the closure “puts these two in a pickle.”

Despite its attention to high-quality photography, The Statesman only posts about five or six photos to Instagram per month, and has generated about 3,400 followers to date. But according to the paper, it has an average of 204,000 daily readers. More consistent posting on Instagram and strategic hashtag usage may help the paper broaden its reach — and perhaps even find audiences beyond Idaho’s state lines.

What Life Is Like In Montana

At the Billings Gazette, Montana’s largest newspaper, the Instagram feed is a place to highlight a number of community events, such as a walk to raise money for cancer research, the Home of Champions Parade and Rodeo, and a recent concert from country music superstar Garth Brooks. It’s also an effective way to spread important news, including a recent heat wave, which one resident took in stride:

The Gazette typically posts one or two photos a day to its Instagram feed, which has about 4,000 followers. There are a few commonalities in the photos it chooses for this social platform: Many of the photos are candid shots of people having a good time — from baseball players at a community BBQ to attendees at a Pride parade, to kids playing at a splash pad. This photo selection drives home the idea that the Gazette is a community newspaper that observes — and sometimes participates in — the events around the state.

Instagram As A Reader Platform

More newspapers are relying on Instagram as a venue to feature their visual journalism and tell stories that are unique to their communities. The social-media platform is also an important tool for newspapers to grow their online audiences, especially as print circulation numbers continue to drop. Most newspapers today are relying more on social and digital media for future growth.
“It’s a way of reaching a different audience,” says Diltz of The Seattle Times. “We are on Facebook and Twitter and have a website, but Instagram is a whole other social media network where people see our name and brand out there and hopefully are becoming more familiar with us. The ultimate goal is that they see our compelling visual storytelling and choose to support us.”

Top image by Larry St. Pierre.