Newspapers will see big changes in the coming years
I've never been invited to the proverbial cocktail party — if such a thing actually exists. But if I were, here's the most common question I'd be asked these days: What's the future of the newspaper industry?
It's the query posed most frequently to me at any social gathering, be it lunch, dinner or a business meeting. Most everyone is aware that newspapers are in the midst of a monumental transition. Digital competition has eaten around the edges of our business model.
In response, newspapers have deployed an array of strategies: consolidating operations; reducing frequency or distribution (more on that in a minute); outsourcing printing or design; and — most promising — experimenting with new sources of revenue.
Here at the Pamplin Media Group, we've been fortunate to retain strong advertising support from local businesses that recognize the value of responsible journalism and the benefits of promoting their own products and services in our printed pages and digital platforms.
We also have the advantage of local ownership (Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. and his family), which means we aren't at the mercy of stockholders with no vested interest in Oregon.
Despite these strengths, we still must react to continuing waves of change. And that's the reason we are having frank discussions with readers this month.
If you've been reading us in print, online or through social media or email newsletters, you've seen our overt request for readers to help us "save local news."
In the past, our business model meant aggregating as many readers as possible and then selling advertising based on the size and quality of that audience.
Today, advertisers have diversified their marketing budgets and the money we receive for digital advertising is pennies on the dollar for what we previously could get in print.
So, we are asking readers to help fill the void, by either subscribing, if they haven't before, or by expanding their subscriptions to include online access to all Pamplin websites. (Go to www.savinglocalnews.com for details.)
This isn't a plea to preserve newspapers, or even the Pamplin Media Group. Rather, it's an appeal to help fund community journalism.
At this point, we are the only media group in the Portland area putting reporters, editors and other staff on the ground in the three-dozen communities served by our newspapers. Professional journalism costs money — and that's just part of the expense we incur.
Producing the print editions of our newspapers is a form of manufacturing involving nearly 200 people. Dozens of employees gather news and advertising that is merged into individual products by designers who then send them to our presses in Gresham and Prineville. From there, they get trucked to post offices, retailers and newspaper boxes scattered across eight counties.
In the specific case of the Portland Tribune, we have decided to concentrate the manufacturing process into just one edition per week — a beefed-up Thursday newspaper. We know this will disappoint readers who enjoy our current twice-per-week schedule, but the economics dictate that make this change. (As in past years, we already had planned to have just one edition the week of Christmas; now, that schedule will continue into the new year).
While this move will save us money, it's not so much a retreat, but a shift in how we can best cover local news. It will be accompanied by other changes:
– The Portland Tribune website, as of Jan. 1, will be placed behind a paywall. Our philosophy will be to serve readers who value local journalism and are willing to help support the cause.
– Within the city of Portland, the print edition of the expanded Thursday Tribune will continue to be free at newsstands. Again, our print advertising is valuable — to us, to readers and to advertisers — and we want to reach as wide an audience as possible.
– In the suburbs, where we have cut back on Tribune distribution in recent years, the Thursday print edition will be more widely available in retail stores, but we will ask readers to pay $1, which covers some of the added expenses of distributing the paper outside of Portland.
Having one edition per week will alter our approach to news coverage. The Tribune website already has Oregon's most comprehensive collection of original local stories, which it pulls from each of our 25 newspapers.
Going forward, the website will be even more timely with Portland-centric news, while the Thursday printed newspaper will add not only pages, but also perspective.
Our goal, with the same staff members on board, will be to help readers figure out what to do in the coming weekend and to make sense of what happened in the previous seven days.
We hear each day from readers who love their Portland Tribune — its intensely local focus, its thoughtful coverage of professional and collegiate sports, its features and puzzles, and yes, its advertising.
Our pledge, as we prepare to enter our 20th year of service, is to give you an even higher quality newspaper once per week, while delivering even more timely news to your phone, tablet or computer.
In return, we ask for your support (www.savinglocalnews.com), so that local journalism continues to fill its vital role in Portland.
Mark Garber is president of 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.