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Local newspapers weather the storm
Photos and Story by Dana Haynes
An editor of a local weekly newspaper – he’s a friend, and I’m not going to identify him here – called my cell phone yesterday with bad news.
His news staff has shrunk so much, he doubts he’ll assign a reporter to write about the PCC bond measure.
I spent 10 years working for weeklies in the Portland suburbs. Back then and back there, it was an absolute given that each weekly in PCC’s five-county region would write about this bond measure. After all, we’re talking about your money, your property, your kids and, often, you. Two-thirds of the households in our 1,500-square-mile district have, or have had, a student at PCC. No other entity has nearly that much penetration.
But the American newspaper industry is in a tailspin and my friend the editor has to do triage. For years, the owners and publishers frowned and said, “Well, we’ll just have to do more with less,” as they whittled away at newsrooms.
The truth is: I’ve never known a more efficient organization that the newsroom of a good weekly. Everyone works hard, works smart and multitasks. At the Lake Oswego Review, I was the managing editor, true, but I could take your circulation call, I could help you place a classified ad, and I could change the cloth towels in the men’s room.
With an operation like that, you don’t “do more with less.” You do less with less. I know this guy’s paper. They’re not “down” to a skeleton crew. They never had anything more than a skeleton crew. They’re down to a femur, a clavicle and a couple of metatarsals.
My editor friend sounded grief-stricken when he told me the news. He got into that business to inform people. To let them know what’s going on. To empower them. He sure as heck didn’t get into the high-stress, low-paying world of weeklies to not tell people what’s going on.
Meanwhile, up in Spokane, another friend and a mentor, Steve Smith, resigned as editor in chief of the Spokesman Review yesterday, rather than oversee another round of staff cuts. His resignation saves two lesser-paid people from the ax.
Such is the state of the world. I told my editor friend down here in Oregon that I understand. I told him to hold down the fort and I wished him the best of luck.
And I thought about him all night last night: Working his tail off, demanding excellence from what’s left of staff. And doing less with less.
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