From Willamette Week:
The Oregonian as a daily newspaper is facing a final deadline.
The 162-year-old newspaper—once considered one of the nation’s best—is losing readers and advertisers in a state where it dominated the media landscape for decades.
Soon, the newspaper may no longer be publishing every day of the week.
The newspaper’s New Jersey-based owner, Advance Publications Inc., has declared it is moving to a Web-based model and publishing schedules are likely to change at many of its newspapers.
Advance—controlled by heirs of press magnate S.I. Newhouse—has already announced the end of daily publishing at eight newspapers in Michigan, Alabama and Louisiana.
The most stunning act of this emerging strategy came in May, when The New York Times broke the news that Advance would publish New Orleans’ storied Times-Picayune only three days a week, fire nearly half the staff and leave the remaining reporters and editors to focus on publishing news on its website.
For years, editors and executives at The Oregonian denied Portland’s newspaper would ever be less than a daily. But in the newsroom, the announcement in New Orleans shattered any illusions.
Staffers here say Oregonian editors now indicate the paper is likely to follow suit, although no one is saying when that will happen or how many days the newspaper will drop from its publishing schedule.
“There’s just not enough advertising,” says Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst for Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab. “Newhouse is acknowledging that daily print has ended its lifespan. They definitely are looking at doing it in Portland and other places, but I don’t think a decision has been made about whether or when.”
In many ways, the change would allow The Oregonian to adapt into a more nimble and relevant news organization. The paper says its website, OregonLive.com, got more than 4.9 million unique visitors in June.
The change would also allow the paper to get out from under the high costs of printing and its large newsroom staff. One longtime Oregonian employee says the paper’s staffers are dreading imminent cuts and layoffs—and senior editors don’t have any information to calm them.
“The managers are just as blind as the rest of us,” the employee says. “We are living with the reality that any day might be the day when the people from Jersey walk in.”
Jack Hart was an Oregonian editor for 26 years, serving as lead editor on two series that won Pulitzer Prizes before he retired in 2007. Now the interim director of the Turnbull Center, the University of Oregon’s Portland campus for journalism, Hart says resignations, buyouts and layoffs have already weakened the newspaper.
“It’s still a big, highly skilled, powerful newsroom,” Hart says. “But I don’t think anybody at the paper would argue that there hasn’t been a loss of reporting power.”
Hart says the crucial barometer is not how many print editions The Oregonian publishes in a week, but how much of the newsroom is preserved.
“It’s not that my Monday morning would be ruined by not having a thin newspaper dropped on my doorstep,” Hart says. “It’s that it would suggest more serious cutbacks in the offing.”
This new reality was hard to imagine in the newspaper’s Southwest Broadway offices a decade ago. Led by publisher Fred Stickel and editor Sandra Mims Rowe, The Oregonian reached its zenith in quality: five Pulitzers, and eight finalists for journalism’s top award, in the 16 years Rowe ran the newsroom.
The Oregonian’s circulation numbers—like those of many large dailies—have spiraled, falling by a third since 2002. These declines, and abandonment by advertisers, have already triggered big changes.
The newspaper offered buyouts, cut pay and—violating its longtime pledge to full-time employees—laid off 37 people, mostly from the newsroom, in 2010. Other layoffs throughout the company have followed.
The Oregonian’s current publisher, N. Christian Anderson III, tells WW the newspaper has no plans to change its publishing schedule. Anderson says he’s talked to employees about what changes in New Orleans might mean for The Oregonian, but has told no one at the newspaper that such a change is coming here.
“I have not told people that we’re changing our publishing schedule,” Anderson tells WW in an email. “Nor have I hinted at that. Any characterization to the contrary is simply incorrect.”
Several sources tell WW that The Oregonian newsroom is being restructured to make its affiliated website, OregonLive.com, the first priority, with staffers evaluated primarily on their online productivity. A recent memo from editor Peter Bhatia said six new positions would be created to feed the Web—a move away “from our traditional devotion to print deadline work at night.”
Some Oregonian editors have begun sending daily emails to congratulate reporters whose posts get the most traffic.
But the loudest hints that change is coming in Portland come from one of Advance’s top executives.
Advance’s media holdings include Condé Nast publications, The New Yorker, American City Business Journals and newspapers in 34 cities. Forbes pegged the privately held company’s revenues last year at more than $6 billion.
Steve Newhouse—chairman of Advance.net, the company’s digital division—has defended the Web-first strategy after howls of protest in New Orleans about losing a daily Times-Picayune.
“The rapid rise in digital adoption by consumers and advertisers is irreversible,” Newhouse wrote in an Aug. 3 editorial for the Poynter Institute, a journalism school. “We are in the midst of a digital revolution and instead of constantly being disrupted by our numerous online competitors, we decided to re-invent ourselves.”
When a Poynter reporter asked him about plans for the company’s other newspapers, Newhouse replied: “We’re facing the same conditions everywhere. We’re looking at every market and trying to figure out what the right model is.”
This is an Open Thread.