Creating community through journalism
Bill and Pat James were living in California when they decided to do something different for the next phase of their life.
At the suggestion of a friend, they each took a notecard and wrote what they would do if they could have everything exactly the way they wanted it.
Bill wrote "buy another newspaper," and Pat wrote "buy another newspaper for Bill to run."
Shortly after that, the couple saw that a small weekly newspaper in Oregon was for sale. Bill visited the news office and knew he had found their new home.
"I got some copies of the paper, and I'm going, 'This baby is made for me,'" he recalled.
That newspaper was the Clackamas County News, predecessor of the Estacada News. The Jameses published The News from 1991-2000 and established themselves as familiar faces in the community.
For Bill, Estacada was the final stop in a lifelong journalism career. He got his start in the industry running advertising proofs to customers as a dispatch boy and later worked melting lead for linotypes, or strips of metal that had single lines of words for newspapers.
After studying at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colo., Bill would go on to work at newspapers like the Juneau Alaska Empire, the Gunnison County Globe, the Weekly Republican, Boulder Town & County, Colorado Springs Weekly and Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.
In Estacada, the Jameses leased the paper from longtime publisher Ray Horn for a year before purchasing it. The couple lived in a farmhouse several miles outside of town.
From the beginning, Bill strived to create community connections at the newspaper.
"If you were going to be successful, that's how you had to measure it. Not just by the dollars you're bringing in and the profit you're making," he said. "A little newspaper like that belongs to the town. It needs to reflect the town."
This philosophy proved successful, and several major local businesses who were not advertising with The News began doing so.
"I said, 'We are the best reference that you have," he said. "(The News) is going to record everything. We're going to report the birth of that employee and that employee's child. We're going to report when they graduate from high school when they get married, and when they have children.'"
Bill was involved with many organizations in town, including the Chamber of Commerce's board of directors, the Fire District's board of directors, the superintendent's advisory committee and Elaine Leatham's "Touch of Class" dance show. He also worked with students to print Estacada High School's newspaper.
While serving on the Chamber board, Bill implemented a volunteer awards banquet to improve local moral. In previous years, Estacada had dealt with the decline of the logging industry, gambling raids and schools closing because of a lack of funds.
"Their chins were clear down to their chests," he remembered. "I said, "I think we have an image problem, and maybe we could do a volunteer awards ceremony. . .Because I see a lot of volunteering going on in this community.'"
Around 100 people attended the event at LB's Restaurant (now known as The Country Restaurant), and dozens of certificates and awards were given out.
"I think we got them thinking a lot more positively than they ever had before, and the setbacks they'd had didn't have to be permanent," he said.
One of Bill's favorite memories from his time at the paper was when a large group of people showed up to help move the news office in the mid 1990s. Local and statewide legislation to limit gay rights were under consideration, and it was a time of sharp divisiveness in the town.
However, people from both sides of the issue came out to assist with the move. In the span of several days, community members helped set up the new space and shared meals together.
"It was so gratifying, but surprising, too," Bill said. "All these people who were at each other's throats were all working together to get their little newspaper back online."
The Jameses sold The News to the Pamplin
Media Group in 2000. Since then, Bill spent 11 years on the Homeowner's Association board for his condo complex in Milwaukie, where he and Pat live with their two cats. He's in the process of self-publishing a memoir called "Let the Sunshine In."
Bill acknowledged that the media landscape is changing but feels there's still a role for community journalism in the digital age.
"There's a future, but it's not going to be as we know it. I think it's going to be a lot more electronic," he said, noting that the industry has undergone significant technological transformations before. "Back when I started pouring lead and running linotypes, who would have thought you could put that together in an office and send it into another town, and everybody puts it together, and it almost magically gets to the press?"
Bill described his time in Estacada was "a wonderful experience."
"For the period of time we were there, we felt confident that we made a difference," he said. "That's probably the best thing — if you can do something in your life and feel you made a difference."
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)