Since 1983, when Mark Zusman and I formed City of Roses Newspaper Company, I have written a column each year on the occasion of Willamette Week's anniversary. The idea is to keep you, our most important stakeholders, abreast of what we're up to, particularly in the context of the larger world of Portland media.
Here we are again.
This week begins WW's 40th year. For those of us who work here, this place is about the lasting value and personal rewards to be found in a life committed to journalism. We seek nothing less than to change the world. We want always to be seeking to make Portland and Oregon better. We also want to serve as a helpful, knowledgeable guide to this wonderful place we all call home.
As we tell you every week in WW's staff box, our mission is to provide you with an independent and irreverent understanding of how your worlds work so you can make a difference.
With so much changing in the media, our mission has never wavered.
Any discussion of the news business in Oregon has to begin with the changes at the state's biggest paper.
The question I hear most often these days is pretty stark: What in the world is The Oregonian up to? And that's followed by: How does WW plan to respond?
When our daily ceased to be a delivered daily more than a month ago, it did so not for journalistic reasons, but for financial ones. Reducing home delivery to four days a week saves millions of dollars. So does laying off senior staff. And so does the contemplated sale of the paper's building at 1320 SW Broadway.
Curiously, no other newspaper company in America is emulating the model being followed by The Oregonian's East Coast owners.
Media giants like The New York Times and smaller, local outfits like The (Bend) Bulletin and Medford Mail Tribune are putting up online paywalls to generate new revenue. At still other media companies, owners are amping up staff and news coverage with the goal of building audiences and revenues.
Still, it would be a mistake to discount The Oregonian these days. Yes, it's a fraction of what it once was, and it's gotten rid of an invaluable cache of institutional memory by laying off so many experienced staffers.
But the paper remains the biggest and richest news-gathering organization in the state—The O's revenues in an average week or two match WW's in a year—and its editors are recruiting a new generation of journalists, some of them sure to be real stars.
respond? Simple. Stick with what got us here: innovation, counterintuition, and a lot of hard work. This week's cover package on the job performance of Mayor Charlie Hales offers a prime example of the
formula at work.
Led by managing news editor Brent Walth, our reporters—Andrea Damewood, Nigel Jaquiss and Aaron Mesh—continue to produce truly excellent accounts of everything from the escapades of Rudy Crew to the appallingly bad judgment behind the Columbia River Crossing. Add to that freelancers like Rachel Graham Cody ("Miracle on 135th Avenue" and "Expel Check"—both about local school districts), and you see why WW maintains such a high degree of respect in serious journalism circles.
In our Arts & Culture section, I marvel at editor Martin Cizmar's energy for this town, especially his adoption of the beer scene. Reviewers like Rebecca Jacobson and Matthew Singer are without parallel. And designers Kathleen Marie and Amy Martin have given the paper and its special publications newfound graphic energy.
WW has never had a larger audience. We reach more than 575,000 different readers and Web viewers each month. Our new mobile site, launched in the past month, has already added dramatically to our Web traffic.
On the business side, the Great Recession is by no means over. While some papers have lost both readers and advertisers, it's only in advertising that we have lost ground in recent years.
Our most immediate competition for advertising comes not just from the Web—Facebook and Instagram and Google and Groupon—but also from The Oregonian, Portland Monthly with its glossy pages and advertiser-friendly contents, and The Portland Mercury with its bargain-basement advertising prices.
Despite its laid-back exterior, Portland is an incredibly competitive market. On a per-capita basis, there are more media outlets here than in just about any other similar-sized market—and we are all fighting over a smaller ad-dollar pie than would be found in most cities this size.
In this context, Mark and I have vowed to do everything possible not to cut back staff while continually seeking to upgrade our operations. As a result, when our fiscal year closes,
will basically break even. (This excludes the performance of our events and our other news operations in New Mexico and North Carolina.)
Next year, we'll be rolling out a new strategy—supplementing regular issues of WW with glossy magazines and small-tab newsprint publications.
And we continue to branch out into the events business, sponsoring Eat Mobile, TechfestNW and MusicfestNW, as well as smaller gatherings, like last Saturday's Beer Pro/Am.
Our greatest single innovation, about which I sometimes feel like a proud papa, may be WW's Give!Guide. 2013 marks year 10 of this marvel, which encourages year-end giving, especially by those of you under the age of 36.
In its first nine years, WW's G!G has raised $7.3 million. This year, Executive Director Nick Johnson is shooting to raise the total to a cool $10 million. You can find a copy of this year's guide inserted in this week's paper. There you can read about 129 great local nonprofits (plus the Oregon Cultural Trust), this year's four amazing Skidmore Prize winners, and our incredibly generous business partners.
Thanks to Portland creative agency Grady Britton, the 2013 Give!Guide also sports a fabulous new website. We even have a new URL. So please be sure to visit giveguide.org and get a little loose with your credit card. In return, you'll receive: great incentives, the knowledge that you're a good and generous Portlander, and the great thanks of the incredible nonprofits you support.
The most important thing we have going for us is you.
We live—and thrive—in a community that cares deeply about our schools, about City Hall, about the businesses that operate in our neighborhoods, about our quality of life. We provide the stories, but it's your passion for this place that provides the context for our work.
As I say every year in this space: You are our reason for being. I hope this annual report will serve to bind us a little closer together. With your continued support and attention, we expect to grow and thrive in the years ahead.
Thank you so much,