Note to our readers: Community newspapers remain strong, even as big-city dailies struggle to find a new business model

Community Newspapers - Pamplin Communications CorporationNewspapers are doing quite well in the Portland metropolitan area, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that following all the buzz about The Oregonian’s announcement last week that it is cutting staff, reducing home delivery, downsizing its offices and focusing its future on digital delivery of news.

It is unfortunate that Portland’s daily paper finds itself in its current predicament. We, along with many local readers, lament the loss of several dozen fine journalists in this community and hope those who’ve been laid off by The Oregonian are able to find rewarding work elsewhere. We’ll also miss seeing a full-fledged daily paper delivered to our homes on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

While we here at Pamplin Media Group regret what is happening to our competitors and colleagues at The Oregonian, it is also important to point out significant differences between that particular company and our own.

When people hear of massive changes taking place with big-city daily newspapers, they understandably jump to the conclusion that all print journalism is suffering the same fate. Luckily, that is far from the case. Community newspapers — the weeklies that serve towns small and large throughout the United States — continue to thrive. They have loyal readerships, a strong advertising base and a relationship with their communities that cannot be duplicated by other forms of media.

The Pamplin Media Group, which now includes 24 newspapers, has grown steadily over the past few years. Last summer we started the Hillsboro Tribune. Just in January, owner Robert B. Pamplin Jr. purchased an additional six community newspapers, based on the knowledge that community journalism is the future for all newspapers in the United States.

Over on the North Coast, the story is much the same. On Friday, Steve Forrester, publisher of the Daily Astorian, noted his company — which also owns the East Oregonian, Wallowa County Chieftain, John Day Blue Mountain Eagle and Chinook Observer — has upgraded its presses and seen subscriptions rise in the past year.

In McMinnville, meanwhile, The News-Register, a fourth-generation family-owned business, continues publishing its twice-weekly community newspaper with a growing number of special sections and related publications.

All of these companies, including ours, are transitioning from newspapers into media companies, as we put energy and resources into digital products, from our websites to phone apps. However, we all continue to view our print product as our foundations, knowing that no matter how smart our phones get, newspapers offer readers and advertisers attributes that simply can’t be matched on an electronic device.

This isn’t just a trend here in Oregon. According to statistics compiled by the National Newspaper Association, more than 150 million people in the U.S. are informed, educated and entertained each week by a community newspaper. That’s why you see a smart investor such as Warren Buffett buying up community newspapers around the nation.

Other industry observers have taken note as well, and many analysts point to the divergent paths being taken by metro dailies and community weeklies. Writing in the Los Angeles Times in 2011, journalism professor Judy Muller stated this distinction clearly:

“At a time when mainstream news media are hemorrhaging and doomsayers are predicting the death of journalism (at least as we've known it), take heart: The free press is alive and well in small towns across America.”

Community newspapers are alive and well because they have a strength lacking in the major metro dailies. They always have had an exclusive focus on local news and advertising. Metro daily newspapers, by contrast, have tried to report on the news of the nation and the world, even as digital forms of news made their print editions outdated before they ever hit the driveway.

Community journalism is different. Sure, we report what is happening at city hall and the cop shop, but we also write the types of stories that people will clip from the newspaper and hold onto for years: weddings, engagements, obituaries and stories of awards and special accomplishments. We write about high school students who star on the field and off. We continually produce feature stories about the people who build our communities through their extraordinary actions and contributions.

Community newspapers are a reflection of their communities, and as such, they offer neighborhood-level journalism that will be difficult for any other medium to replicate. What’s happening at The Oregonian is unfortunate, but it isn’t the complete story of newspapers in Portland. Our company isn’t retreating or cutting back. We are expanding and intend to be here for our readers, delivering news in print and online for decades to come.

Mark Garber is president and publisher of the Portland Tribune and Community Newspapers.