Oregonian Layoffs

Last week, we learned the Oregonian, our newspaper here in Portland, is going to quit daily delivery service.

I’ve been a subscriber since 2001. I felt so adult when the first one arrived on my doorstep at the tiny white house with blue shutters I rented with my roommate. The paper quickly became one of my beloved morning rituals, as vitally important as coffee, and while there’s less time to read now with kids who wake up demanding attention, it’s still a part of my life. I love the Oregonian. I love talking to my husband about what we’ve read each morning. I love the fact that journalists go out and cover this city, dig into the community, and tell us what they’ve heard and seen. Every day.

Starting in October, Oregonian delivery service will be available only on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, with a “bonus” edition on Saturday that focuses on news, sports, and classifieds. On the non-delivery days, print copies will be available for purchase at local retailers, or online through a clunky, slow, and somewhat inappropriately named service, MyDigitalO.

O the horror.

I spend enough time on my computer and have no interest in reading the online edition; I never bother with OregonLive.com, the Oregonian website. I’ll likely just skip those non-delivery days and hope the important content is repackaged in the print versions we do receive. Will we get a price break with fewer papers delivered to our doorstep? It’s unclear. “We are reviewing the pricing and subscription details for deliveries after October 1 and will provide more information once finalized,” reads the FAQ about this major change.

What really makes me sick, of course, is the layoffs, especially in the news department–35 people there, Willamette Week reported, for a total of 90 staffers. As a former small-town newspaper reporter, I read bylines rather obsessively, keeping tabs on who is writing what, and I’m shocked and saddened by how many names have been confirmed as being on the layoff list so far. I’ve been a loyal reader of these reporters’ good work for years, and I hate the thought of opening the paper and not seeing their bylines there. This is a moving farewell by Ryan White, one of the amazing, hard-working, dedicated journalists who has been laid off.

Where are the jobs for these now out-of-work reporters? In another city or state? We’re flooded with smart, talented writer-people here in Portland, and besides, the local job market isn’t great. And where’s the thank-you for all the late-night meetings these reporters have covered, all the angry phone calls they’ve taken, all the physical and emotional strain high-quality journalism brings with it? (Higgins, a local restaurant, opened a bar tab for people to call in and donate drinks, but I’m not sure if that’s still going on.)

My husband and I are conflicted about continuing our subscription. We want to support the remaining journalists–what’s left of this hometown paper of ours now that it’s been gutted–but we’re really disappointed that Advance Publications has gone this route, as they did in New Orleans and Cleveland.

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a college term paper on why small community papers–my particular passion–would survive the Internet: staying ultra-local. Telling neighbors about their neighbors. Committing to relevant, locally focused stories and therefore stimulating political discussion and involvement. In recent years, the has gotten much smaller, and what column inches remain have been increasingly filled with wire reports from other places. Laying off so many talented reporters will mean an even smaller, less interesting product. Pushing people toward the clunky MyDigitalO version will alienate those of us who prefer print.

I wonder if the Oregonian will exist in print form when my kids are old enough to subscribe, or if they’ll end up, like so many American families already do, sitting across from their spouses at the breakfast table, sipping coffee, each staring at a laptop open to different sites. And if this keeps happening at papers around the country, where will our civil discourse happen? Online? We all read different websites; we pick news based on our own interests or we avoid the news entirely. What will we have in common with each other? With our neighbors and friends? Will we even bother to read other points of view, or will we click past them and search for something that fits with our own beliefs? And what will happen to critical thinking then?

To everyone who was laid off, thank you for your service to this community. We–your average, everyday readers–noticed and appreciated your stories, your insights, your dedication, and we’ll miss you.

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Community, Journalism, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Oregonian Layoffs

  1. Emma says:

    This is happening everywhere. Some of our oldest local newspapers are in danger of shutting down. And unfortunately I can’t see any way back for the physical newspaper industry now. It’s very sad to see these closures.

    • It’s so sad, Emma. I worked in community journalism for a decade or so, and I am a huge believer in print. The concreteness of it. The ability to stimulate a community discussion. I dislike the disposable feeling of culture these days, and much prefer reading hard copies (one of the reasons my publishing company is focusing on paperbacks). Seeing the Oregonian and other companies shift their resources away from print, though, makes me think maybe I’m in the minority.

  2. So many newspapers have gone under in the last ten years, it breaks my heart, Laura. As the lover of The Sunda New York Times … I can gell you that it was a bundle that weighed more than the average child … now it can easily be hoisted by said child.

    There are onlyTWO separate book review sections. That is only two papers still have a separate magazine devoted solely to books. I believe the second one is the San Francisco Examiner. The Miami Herald has converted much of their staff to digital … other publications are ALL digital.

    Thanks so much for caring enough to shed light on this sad event. Out of work publishing editors became literary agents. What do out of work reporters and photojournalist do?

    • So true, Florence. As someone who just committed to print, with my small press, I panic regularly about how book reviews get so little coverage these days. When I moved to Oregon, the Oregonian had a pull-out books section like so many other papers. No more, no more. And I don’t know what the reporters and photojournalists will do. There’s a limited pool of dailies around the world, that’s for sure. And with my experience with weeklies, those jobs are much lower-paying and still pretty hard to find.

  3. dianeprokop says:

    Hi, Laura. I have mixed feelings about this turn of events. A lot of good people with who I’m friends lost their jobs, but they worked for The Oregonian management which is a staid group of very right-wing Republicans who will stop at nothing to push their agenda through. Their agenda consists of cutting taxes for corporations, raising taxes on the poor and middle class, and abolishing unions. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of us who worked as teachers, firefighters, police etc at reduced salaries thinking we would have pensions down the road, have found The O a source of great consternation. They continually print lies to support their premise that PERS is underfunded and the source of all that is wrong in Oregon. That’s simply not true. During this legislative session we lost a good portion of our COLAs due to pressure exerted on politicians by The O and The Statesman Journal to “Fix” Oregon’s problems by cutting pensions. Meanwhile, corporate tax rates in Oregon are the best in the nation, meaning that companies pay next to nothing for doing business here while receiving huge incentives to do so. Thousands of us PERS employees stopped our subscriptions over the last two years because of this. In any case, the slim paper had devolved into mostly ads and stories about murder, pedophiles, and calamity. There was no real substantive news. For that we’ve have to turn to multiple online news sources. And yes, I miss the days of enjoying my morning paper with a cup of coffee. When I was growing up in Chicago, we had three daily newspapers delivered to our door. They competed to bring us news that had depth and serious investigative journalism. The good ole days are gone.

    In the meantime, I have spent the last several days reaching out to my friends at newspapers and magazines across the nation to find positions for my laid-off friends. There are still a few journalism jobs out there, but who knows for how long.


    • I admit to reading the paper differently now, as a mom with limited time, than when I was in the newspaper business and needed to focus on the coverage in a more critical way. It’s great that you have connections elsewhere, Diane, and can help your journalist-friends find leads about new positions.

      I certainly believe in the power of print, but I also realize that attitude is already old-fashioned; knowing that is the first step in modeling my small press in such a way as to flow with the changes instead of standing firm against them.

  4. The internet is suffocating all printed news
    the newspapers have been a driving force in the development of this country and the traditions it has given us is coming to its end.
    We are well into this digital era and for better or worse is comes with change,
    our morning coffee and the dim glow of a pc screen or smart phone nowadays

  5. Lee LaFontaine says:

    Laura; agree totally with your “unapropriately” comment, but what specifically did you mean by referring to the new site as clunky and slow. It’s worked perfectly for me….until today. All I get is the graphic of the “O” and nothing else. People at the Oreginion are baffled… Any advise. Cheers, and thanks for the rant. Lee

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