Garber: Journalism has never been more important
If I had ever begun to doubt whether people still cared about local news, the past few weeks have provided ample evidence to wash those fears away.
There's no need here to recount the local impact from the combined forces of pandemic, economic turmoil, legitimate protest and illicit destruction. This is a year never to be forgotten, in Oregon or elsewhere.
But through it all, two things have remained constant for our news organization: the dedication of our employees, who wade deep into our communities to keep readers informed of these extraordinary events, and the support of our readers, who have rallied around the cause of local news like never before.
It's no secret that local news organizations are under extreme economic pressure, having abruptly lost up to half of their advertising revenue when stay-at-homes orders brought the economy to a halt. And that makes it all the more impressive that our reporters, editors, photographers and page designers have committed themselves to a balanced, fact-based accounting of how the turmoil affects each of the dozens of communities we cover.
Other local news organizations have — like us — dispatched teams to downtown Portland for the largest and most dramatic expressions of outrage. But no one else has provided the on-the-ground, nitty gritty coverage of both the pandemic and protests in places like Gresham, Lake Oswego, Forest Grove, Woodburn, Newberg and Prineville (just to name a few). This community-based coverage is why readers support us. And, as we announced earlier this month, we are moving toward restoring the more localized editions to which our print readers are accustomed.
The support from readers is directly connected to our ability to bring back local print editions after two months of pandemic-forced consolidation of our newspapers. These readers have supported us in two ways: buying digital subscriptions, which have tripled since the start of the year, and making donations to a foundation that, in turn, provides funding for our COVID-19 coverage. Those donations are closing in on $25,000 and have ranged from small (but greatly appreciated) contributions of $10 or $20 to larger gifts of $1,000 and up.
We are using that money — right now — to cover the local effects of the pandemic by bringing back some of our laid-off staffers and by restoring hours to some reporters whose work weeks had been cut short. Meanwhile, the immense increase in digital subscriptions helps sustain us for the long run at a time when our traditional source of revenue — advertising — has been severely reduced by the economic shutdown.
Moving forward, we want our readers to know that we are not just here to tell dire but important stories about the impact of racism and disease. We have loftier goals in mind. A great deal of monetary assistance is coming into all of our communities from a variety of sources to help this region dig out of its economic hole and to right historic wrongs. Public attitudes are changing as well. These forces give us hope that local people and organizations will find answers to issues of inequality and economic duress.
The owner of our company, Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr., has challenged us to celebrate and record these efforts to translate hope into meaningful action. In the media world, we call this "solutions journalism," where we don't just put a label on problems, but we also shine a light on programs that show promise in addressing social issues.
Because of our deep community connections, our news organization is best suited to tell these stories and share with readers how well we are doing locally and regionally to create opportunity and fulfill hope.
We don't have to wonder if our readers care about such solutions. That confirmation has come from the humbling show of support you have provided in the past few weeks. Here is just one of the many comments we have received from readers who have stepped up to donate to our COVID fund or buy digital subscriptions. This one happens to come from longtime reader Joan Albertson of Gresham:
"You have been my favorite local newspaper for 49-plus years. You have your fingers on the pulse of our community and you know our hearts!"
Thank you to all the Joan Albertsons out there for the confidence you have shown in us.
Mark Garber is president of the Pamplin Media Group.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.