Our real test is this: How can we best fill Portland’s growing journalism void?
In 1974, during this newspaper’s formation, the situation was pretty straightforward. WW was to be an alternative to Portland’s daily newspapers. (There were two at the time.) All we had to do was cover what they missed—or report with more depth and context. And explore and help define Portland’s culture—especially food, drink and music. And devote ourselves to being a valued—albeit niche—participant in the life of our city.
But WW no longer exists as an “alternative”—at least not in the way we used to define the term. For much of Portland, we are a mainstream medium, read in print and/or online by 400,000 of you every month.
Along with you, we’ve watched The Oregonian struggle. I suspect by the end of next year, WW will no longer have a daily newspaper to match wits with, as The Oregonian is widely expected to become a five-, four- or even a three-day-a-week operation.
“Won’t that be great for business?” a number of you have asked.
Not for us, and not for Portland.
To grow and flourish, a city like ours needs a sustained narrative—one that originates in careful questioning and discussion. This kind of reporting—not just of news, but of culture and imagination—is at the heart of the complex buzz of ideas and thoughts that holds us together as a community and gives us our sense of possibility.
As to WW’s role in all of this, consider the following: Our newsroom has a staff of nine. We have a production staff of five, an advertising and marketing team of 12 (including classifieds and events), a single circulation manager, a Musicfest staff of two, and five of us in operations. We also have a number of freelance contributors and other independently contracted help.
In other words, we have nowhere near enough resources—for our aspirations or Portland’s—which is why I believe this to be the challenge that will animate the years ahead.
That’s my sense of the context in which WW and wweek.com operate today.
I write to you like this each year, because all of us who work here consider you our most important stakeholders. Without your interest, trust and support we’d cease to have a reason for being. The remainder of this report summarizes how we’re doing as a business and says a little about what we’ve been up to the past 12 months.
WW’s parent, City of Roses Newspaper Co., grew this year when we acquired Indy Week and indyweek.com in North Carolina’s Research Triangle. While it’s too early to tell how the Indy, as its audience refers to it, will do financially under our supervision, it is a remarkable operation with a truly talented staff and an amazing connection to the communities it serves.
Our media operations in New Mexico, the Santa Fe Reporter and sfreporter.com, have come into their own this past year, with an aggressive editor, a number of groundbreaking stories and, in this horrible media economy, a healthy financial performance.
When the 2012 fiscal year closes, revenues generated by our Portland operations will have been about the same as last year’s. Expenses are up slightly, so our bottom line, while still in the black, will be slim: a net, pre-tax profit in the vicinity of 1 percent—about half what we experienced last year.
Compared with revenues in 2007—the last year before the recession—our annual gross is down about 20 percent. We have managed through expense reductions to keep our heads above water and to put ourselves in a position to grow during the year ahead.
Here’s just one example: While we’ve cut back the total number of papers we print, we’ve done so by decreasing the number distributed outside the immediate Portland area while increasing the number we distribute closer to home. The result is WW currently boasts the largest—and youngest—Portland-area readership in our history.
In no particular order, here are a few highlights from the past 12 months:
• Our journalism. From January’s “Booze Wars,” which prefigured what is certain to be a major debate of the upcoming session of the Oregon Legislature, to last week’s “The King of Clackistan,” which helped explain the source of rebelliousness in Clackamas County, WW has tried to make complex, wonky issues accessible and engaging.
Aaron Mesh’s pieces about property tax compression (“When Stacks Attack”) and real-estate development (“Block Busters”), and Nigel Jaquiss’ dissection of wasteful operations at the fire bureau (“Burning Money”), are great examples.
WW also provided helpful reportage on the Occupy Movement and kept after the questionable Columbia River Crossing. Earlier this year, Jaquiss won the most prestigious local journalism prize, the Bruce Baer award, for his CRC work.
Perhaps most important, WW led all media here in covering all aspects of this year’s mayor’s race.
Two special projects also deserve mention: “Take Me to the River,” the special portrait of the Willamette River that appeared at the beginning of May, and “President of Beers,” in which we obtained a leading micro or home brew from every state in the nation and then had expert tasters rate them. Overall, lots of serious stuff made interesting, and lots of interesting stuff made serious.
• WW’s Give!Guide. Begun modestly in 2004 as a way to develop the year-end giving habit in Portlanders under the age of 36, this has grown into a huge annual undertaking—to the point that G!G now has a full-time executive director and, this year, will support 110 incredible local nonprofits.
A copy is inserted in this issue. Please read it, then go to wweek.com/giveguide and let your credit or debit card run wild between now and midnight Dec. 31. Along the way, you can collect all manner of great incentives—from free cups of French Press at a Stumptown Coffee Roasters and free scoops of Salt & Straw ice cream to home delivery of coffee beans, tea, wine and other goodies.
Also: On Monday, Nov. 12, starting at 6 pm at Rontoms, 600 E Burnside St., we’ll be celebrating this year’s four fabulous Skidmore Prize winners. There’s no admission fee.
• Our events. From EatMobile’s celebration of local food carts each April to September’s annual MusicfestNW, with July’s Best of Portland Party in between and a lot of smaller activities on the side, WW puts a huge effort into celebrating aspects of life here that make Portland so special. In 2012, we were fortunate not to have any weather interruptions. These events will all be back in 2013—with some interesting changes.• WW’s Finder—In addition to Drink, Devour and Cheap Eats in the spring, Summer Guide and Pride Guide in June, and Restaurant Guide in October, each August we publish Finder, what we believe to be the most helpful and engaging locals’ guide to Portland.
All 40,000 free copies of Finder were snapped up within weeks, but you can now purchase a copy at any Powell’s store in town, including at the airport.
That’s the past year in a nutshell.
Without you as readers and supporters, there’d be little point to what we do.
Thank you for your continued interest and attention—and for providing this great city with its heart and soul.
P.S. And, of course, as I say in this space every year, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us whatever the reason—to criticize, suggest a story idea, place an ad, or help us answer the fundamental question with which this report began.