The voice of the community for nearly 40 years

When Denny Smith called, Jim Smith answered

by: FAYE TAYLOR/SPECIAl TO THE CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Jim Smith was the publisher of the Central Oregonian for nearly 30 years.

Faye Taylor
   Jim Smith of Prineville spent a lifetime in the journalism business and 37 years of that was spent as editor of the Central Oregonian.
   On Feb. 1, 1970, Smith was hired as the Editor/Publisher because there was neither at the newspaper at the time.
   Some of Smith’s duties as editor included managing staff, buying equipment and supplies, selling advertising, and producing a weekly editorial page. He also helped with the news beat, and sat in on city council and school board meetings among others.
   “Over the years,” Jim began, “as we became a little more prosperous, I hired a news editor and became a plain old publisher. I was publisher for about 30 years. I still maintained an office at the Central Oregonian for another 10 years after I became president of Eagle Newspapers.
   “We started out with a very basic hot type operation with very old equipment and a very old building, and made the transition to what you see today at the Central Oregonian.
   “Some very good people with a long employment history at the newspaper had important roles in that journey. The people and the continued success of the CO are the most rewarding aspect of the effort, I suppose.”
   That transition began with remodeling the original Central Oregonian building and installing a modern newspaper printing plant.
   “At the time, a three-unit Goss Community (Press), but we were proud of it,” Smith said.
   In 1975, under Smith’s guidance, the Central Oregonian bought the building lot at the present location from the City. Then, he designed and built it where it sits today.
   “Moving into the new building in 1975 without missing a publication deadline was a memorable two weeks. That was a demanding time for the employees, because they had to move all of their stuff from one building to the other over weekends while they still did their regular jobs. And the big boss from Salem came over to watch over the equipment moves,” Smith explained.
   Smith definitely has an opinion about the role of modern-day newspapers. He believes they are the heart and soul of the communities they serve and that no other media fulfills the role of newspapers.
   “Take the public records/open meetings law. Maintaining that is essential if the public is to know what their elected officials are doing. Newspapers put a tremendous amount of staff time into trying to have a presence at every meeting of city councils, school boards, county courts, and more. Sometimes those are long, deadly dull, and boring meetings that we still report on. And we are usually the only media in attendance,” he explained.
   He feels that because of the many roles that local newspapers play in their communities, they will be around for a long time to come. Although there is a lot of anxiety in the industry right now because some huge newspapers and newspaper companies are in trouble, they are only in trouble because their management paid too much for other overpriced newspaper companies, built huge new buildings, bought expensive equipment, and encumbered enormous debts, which they now can’t pay off.
   On the other hand, he also feels that community newspapers usually aren’t exposed to those problems unless they are owned by a mega company with mega debts. The community newspaper’s woes are almost always a reflection of the economic woes of the community. For example, when local advertising is down, it reflects on the newspaper that depends upon local advertising income.
   “That doesn’t mean the community newspaper is in demise,” Smith said. “It means the community is hurting and we also feel the pain. When the community recovers, we feel better also.”
   Smith was publisher of the newspaper until 1999. Most of that time, he was and still is a member of the board of directors of Eagle Newspapers. He was president of Eagle Newspapers until he retired on Feb. 1, 2007, and maintained an office at the Central Oregonian until about that time.