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 O 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.