By editorial board • 

Register-Guard sale sign of times, but not inevitable for all papers

Community news is still being covered nationwide by reporters and editors with intimate knowledge of the people and stories around them. But local ownership is, in fact, becoming increasingly endangered. 

The News-Register is among a handful of Oregon papers still remaining independent.

Now it has the dubious distinction of representing the state’s oldest, stand-alone family newspaper, having been under Bladine family ownership since 1928. That title was inherited last week, when the Register-Guard, operated by the Baker family since 1927, announced its sale to GateHouse Media.

News of the sale wasn’t surprising. It’s become increasingly difficult to operate smaller market dailies during the past decade.

In announcing the transaction, family patriarch Tony Baker said: “We’ve come to the realization that in today’s business environment, it’s increasingly difficult for a stand-alone, family-owned daily newspaper to compete successfully and continue to provide products the owners are proud to deliver.”

In the process, such papers have appeared attractive to large publicly traded corporations like New York-based GateHouse, which operates 130 dailies, more than 640 non-dailies and more than 540 local market websites across 36 states.

Unfortunately for communities covered by these papers, sale to a large chain inevitably leads to financial streamlining, serving to cut jobs and shrink newsrooms. For those in the news business, it’s a somber note to consider what that portends for the Register-Guard, one of the best newspapers in the state, if not the best. 

News-Register Publishing isn’t the oldest family-owned newspaper company in the state. The ownership of a pair of families merging in 1908 has come to include the Daily Astorian, East Oregonian, Capital Press and eight other newspapers. 

For operations like theirs and ours, perception is as big a hurdle as revenue of late. 

“In 2017, we heard the word ‘media’ used more frequently than ever before,” Kathryn Brown, publisher of the East Oregonian, said in a recent commentary. “Some people used it disparagingly, as if much of the news media — including newspapers such as ours — are part of some vast ‘mainstream media’ conspiracy.”

Another perception we must fight is that of imminent demise.

When the Bladine family recently listed one of its two large downtown buildings, social media chirped about “the end of an era.” In fact, the company is undergoing a minor consolidation, moving sales and production to its Oregon Lithoprint printing plant in the industrial park, while news, accounting and front office employees remain downtown. 

If you’re waiting for disclosure of this paper’s sale to a giant corporation, don’t hold your breath.

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