By Jeb Bladine • President / Publisher • 

Newspapers battle for metro readers

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Changes in the newspaper industry include publication schedules with fewer days of print and more frequent updates on websites and mobile devices. Yet in Portland, an almost unprecedented competition for suburban community newspaper readers is shaping up between The Oregonian and Pamplin Media Group.

The competition started in 2001 when Portland businessman Robert Pamplin Jr. founded the Portland Tribune, then a twice-weekly newspaper that attracted some top staffers from The Oregonian and hit the metropolitan area with a bang.

It was both business and personal. Pamplin’s Ross Island Sand and Gravel operation, which mined a four-island Willamette River cluster until 2001, had come under close scrutiny by an Oregonian investigative series. His considerable wealth since then has been directed at building Pamplin Media Group, which includes community newspapers throughout the Portland metro area and several Pacific Northwest radio stations.

Pamplin acquired a group of community newspapers that included Beaverton, Tigard, Forest Grove and Lake Oswego, among others. The Tribune was cut to weekly publication in 2008, but the Pamplin group continued expanding its media interests.

The Oregonian long ago purchased the Hillsboro Argus, then the largest of the metro area suburban newspapers, and its regional editions have covered other Washington County communities with weekly sections.

Last year, the fireworks began.

First, Pamplin started a new community newspaper in Hillsboro to challenge the Argus. Almost overnight, The Oregonian produced a newspaper in Forest Grove in direct competition with the News-Times, owned by Pamplin.

This year, Pamplin acquired another group of community newspapers, including the Newberg Graphic and Canby Herald, from Eagle Newspapers. Last month, The Oregonian announced it will launch a free-distribution newspaper throughout Beaverton, with circulation dwarfing that of the Beaverton Valley-Times owned by Pamplin.

This will mean head-to-head community newspapers competing in Beaverton, Hillsboro and Forest Grove, and it’s anybody’s guess where this media competition will surface next. Meanwhile, there is plenty of speculation regarding the future publication schedule for The Oregonian itself.

Advance Publications, owned by the Newhouse family, has converted several major metropolitan daily newspapers to three-day publication, including the Times-Picayune of New Orleans and three former dailies in Alabama. This year, Advance will reduce home delivery of the Cleveland Plain Dealer to three days a week, even though the paper will continue publishing seven days.

It is, as they say, an interesting time to be in the newspaper business.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@news or 503-687-1223.

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