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Two divergent approaches to community journalism


Many Oregonians have been thinking and talking about the future of print journalism this month.

On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the state’s largest and oldest newspaper stopped its daily delivery to homes. For the past two weeks subscribers to The Oregonian have received a delivered newspaper on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday — along with what’s been dubbed “a bonus edition” on Saturdays. (The Monday, Tuesday and Thursday editions are available only at newsstands.)

When Oregonian Publisher N. Christian Anderson III announced this change back in June, he sent a clear message to readers that Portland’s 162-year-old daily would follow in the cookie-cutter path already being taken by other papers owned by New York-based Advance Publications. This change in delivery follows months — years, really — of cost-cutting at The Oregonian that included shedding dozens upon dozens of veteran journalists in Portland, suburban bureaus and at the Hillsboro Argus, which is also owned by Advance Publications. It is a model Advance is rolling out across the country, and as such, it highlights the two divergent approaches being taken by the two largest news-gathering organizations in the Portland area.

The approach embraced by Advance includes a willingness to make dramatic changes in the delivery of news, regardless of how a community might feel about it. The second path, one the Pamplin Media Group will follow, is defined by local news, local ownership and local decision-making. Our company is owned by longtime Oregon resident Robert B. Pamplin Jr., who leaves it up to managers at each of the 25 newspapers within our group to make their own decisions about how to best serve their communities.

While they are under one umbrella, the newspapers within the Pamplin Media Group, including the News-Times, have their own distinct traditions and relationships with individual communities. They range in age from 132 years in the case of the Prineville Central Oregonian and 127 years for News-Times to just one year for the upstart Hillsboro Tribune.

The distinct competitive advantage for all the Pamplin newspapers is that our 80 newsroom employees concentrate exclusively on local news. Plus, our sales representatives understand the unique needs of the markets in which they work.

That advantage has been noted by industry observers and national investors such as Warren Buffett, who’ve been saying for several years that local, community newspapers — as opposed to major metro dailies — are in the best position to thrive in the digital era.

It also partly explains why a company such as Advance has started up its local newspaper, the Forest Grove Leader. The Leader was launched in retaliation for our decision to start the Hillsboro Tribune, but it’s owners moved quickly to try and copy our success with the May 1 debut of the Beaverton Leader.

We’re flattered, but need to make a distinction.

The ongoing success of our newspapers can be seen in what we produce each and every week. We publish more local news and local advertising than any other media in Oregon — and that includes The Oregonian. A count of original local stories in our collective newspapers comes in at more than 1,000 per week, while our ad count, not including classified advertising, exceeds 1,300 per week.

Stated simply, we have broader and deeper community-based information than anyone else, which is why we have full confidence that our newspapers will be successful for decades to come.

We also have confidence in something else: the ability of our newspaper managers and employees to listen to their readers and advertisers and make smart choices in coming years about how best to serve each community where we do business.

For most of our employees, this town is more than a stop on the journalistic career ladder or a place to leave before the afternoon rush hour kicks in. It’s our home.

Sure, the News-Times and the Pamplin Media Group will change with the times, and we will help fill a news void left by a diminished Oregonian. The decisions we make, however, will be determined locally — not by a parent company in a faraway place — and they will be fully informed by the interactions we have in our communities each and every day.