Apparently, for me, the road of life is U.S. Highway 26

Well, that was fast 20 years.

I'm Tony Ahern, recently named publisher of this newspaper, and it's great to be back within its pages.

I started my professional career here at the Central Oregonian, way back in 1986. I'd just turned 23, fresh out of college, when I got the job as sports editor here. Fortunately for me, the paper's first choice had turned down the job.

I worked for Publisher Jim Smith and the C.O. for seven years -- first as sports editor, later in hard news -- before getting the job as publisher of the Madras Pioneer in 1993. I've been there ever since.

It's been a year of change for both the Central Oregonian and the Pioneer. The Pamplin Media Group purchased both of the newspapers in 2013. It's very common within community newspaper groups to have one person manage more than one paper, and that's essentially what's happening with the Central Oregonian and the Madras Pioneer. Vance Tong, the publisher here for the past nine years, was asked to go to work for the company's Portland Tribune.

I'm excited to be given this opportunity to ride both horses, so to speak. I thoroughly enjoyed my years in Prineville, in my 20s, playing rat ball at the high school, camping in the Ochocos, fly-fishing the Crooked River -- stuff that's nothing special on one hand, priceless on the other. During that time, I married a Prineville girl and set off on the road of life.

Apparently, for me, the road of life is U.S. Highway 26

Outside of my college years in Eugene, the only two places I've ever lived have been Prineville and Madras. This may sound about as small-town hick as it gets, but I'm absolutely fine with that.

My take on Prineville is one of Oregon's jewel communities. Its history is amazing. Even its location, off the familiar beaten path of "Interstate" 97, adds to its uniqueness. Its people are independent-minded yet with a deep sense of community and giving spirit. Prineville and Crook County have a great tenacity and toughness, a perseverance. Spend some time here and, if your lucky, it might rub off.

While my job is is essentially to steer it down the road and manage the busineess elements, I'm walking into a newspaper that has a good, dedicated staff that knows what it's doing (hoping it won't take them long to train me). Your paper won a national newspaper award for general excellence this past year. Part of my job is to not mess up wihat's good about the newspaper, and that's plenty.

I don't bring with me grand designs to substantially and immediately change your newspaper. If I had to outline my philosophy for a community newspapers in this era, I'd say its to focus on the positive, to promote the community. Sure, we'll cover difficult, bad news as well, and endeavor to clearly, objectively report on complex, important issues. But the only way our newsaper can survive and thrive is if the community does, so we'll focus on celebrating and promoting Prineville and Crook County. If we don't, who will?

But that philosophy has long endured at the Central Oregonian.

While I'm hoping the transition is as simple and trauma-free as possible for the newspaper, it is a new start. If you've had any reason to move away from your community newspaper in the past, whether as a reader or advertiser, please view this time as a new start. If you've had a negative experience, were denied something, were unhappy with coverage or lack thereof, please try us again. If there are issues you'd like to talk about, please give me a call.

I'm excited to return to the C.O. after two decades, and I look forward to getting fully up to speed on all things Prineville and Crook County. That's going to take a bit of time. There's been a lot that's changed in 20 years, but thankfully, there's a lot about Prineville and Crook County that hasn't.

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