Each November, I write about our newspaper's condition and add a comment or two on the larger media environment in which we operate. Here, in Q&A format, is this year's report.
How is WW doing?
Our most important quality is our editorial voice. In that regard, 2004 has been a good year. The covers reproduced on the side of this page illustrate the breadth and depth of what we publish. They do not, however, do justice to the territory we cover inside the paper each week. Check out David Walker's capsule movie reviews, Bite Club's tasty morsels, the gossipy items in Murmurs, or the ubiquitous Nose (who got bumped this week to make room for me). We hope you find that Willamette Week speaks to your strong work ethic and sense of civic involvement while keeping in mind your playful side.
Of course, our writing and graphic design wouldn't matter if we didn't have you as readers. It's striking to note that there are more of you now than ever before: According to the Spring/Summer Media Audit, 397,000 Portland-area residents read WW each month, an increase of 12,000 over the same period last year.
What about the bottom line?
Last year, I projected we would close our fiscal year (whose end date was March 31) with revenues of $6 million and pre-tax profits of $300,000. Due to continuing sluggishness in the economy and internal sales-management issues, we ended up with gross revenues of $5,741,916 instead. That represented very slight growth over the previous year. By managing costs carefully, however, we managed to exceed our profit target.
This year, we've changed our reporting period to the calendar year. With fewer than six weeks to go, I feel confident in projecting total revenues of at least $5.99 million and pre-tax profits of more than $330,000 for 2004. This is an appropriate place to thank our many advertisers, who for 30 years now have committed themselves to you and the cause of journalism in Portland. Please frequent them, tell them you saw their ads in WW, and if their ads were a factor in drawing you to do business with them, let them know.
For starters, we have several fresh faces on the management team. Shawna McKeown, our former production manager, returned from maternity leave to become general manager at the beginning of the year. Sam Hicks, a seasoned veteran of local broadcast advertising sales, took over as display manager in March, at the same time as Ellen Osborn, one of our own stellar classified reps, became manager of that department. More recently, former circulation assistant Joe Davis assumed full responsibility for getting all 90,000 copies of this newspaper in your hands each week.
We also expanded our roster of events, which already included the Longbaugh Film Festival and MusicfestNW. In April and again in October, WW, with the help of the Bus Project and the City Club of Portland, produced an unconventional political party, "Candidates Gone Wild!" Where else can nearly 2,000 Portlanders watch local politicians squirm while drinking craft beer and listening to live music?
Last week, WW introduced its first annual Give Guide--an attempt to focus on giving as well as receiving this time of year. Along with the guide, we inaugurated the Skidmore Prize--cash awards to young Portlanders who have enriched this city with their good works. Please visit the Give Guide on our website, wweek.com, and let loose with your credit card.
This week, we're adding a new advertising feature: "Locally Owned," a special, low-cost space for small, interesting businesses that can't afford our regular ad rates. It can be found on page 19.
Every eight to 10 years, it seems, WW experiences a growth spurt. Going to free distribution in 1984 triggered the first one. Expanding circulation in the early '90s, followed by the purchase in 1997 of a second paper (the Santa Fe Reporter), led us to a new level operationally.
Now, with the 2005 fiscal year on the horizon, we're expecting a third period of expansion, journalistically as well as financially. Equally important, WW has just turned 30.
To celebrate this milestone, two weeks ago we published a "Where Are They Now?" issue, featuring 30 prominent Portlanders from the past 30 years. Next up is the history of these three decades, Willamette Week-style; we plan to publish it in the spring. Finally, during the summer we hope to put on a weeklong festival celebrating many of the areas we cover.
Talk about the bigger picture. How could the national media have allowed us another four years of W and his crowd?
I realize WW, with its local focus, sits largely on the sidelines of the country's most pressing issues. At the same time, we think of ourselves as part of the larger world of media, and we remain resolute in our belief that sound journalism is an absolute prerequisite to a society's success. So it's embarrassing to acknowledge the extent of the failure of our national press these past four years.
For me, understanding what's gone wrong begins with President Kennedy's assassination in 1963. Until Oswald fired his fateful shots, the majority of Americans got their news from the daily paper. That week, however, television took over as the country's dominant news medium. The advent of cable only made TV more dominant.
Yet, as far as politics and public affairs go, that medium's greatest use is as a vehicle for attack ads and overheated partisanship. It should come as no surprise that television bought the Bushies' weapons-of-mass-destruction fabrications. This much, sadly, is to be expected. What wasn't expected was the failure of the national print media--especially The New York Times and the Washington Post--to be more skeptical.
Of course, WMD is just the most obvious of the media's recent failings. The most likely explanations for them are: (a) the electronic media had whipped up such a war-mongering frenzy after 9/11 that the print media was cowed; (b) there exists such unhealthy coziness in Washington that even the best newspaper reporters can't think straight; and (c) corporatization and agglomeration of media ownership have led the major media to believe they now must kowtow to government to allowed to continue their acquisitive ways.
That the newspapers that aggressively pursued the Pentagon Papers and Watergate around the time of WW's founding could now serve too much of the time as harmless shills for the Bush administration is a national shame.
If things are this grim, why are you still in journalism?
Almost all my working life has been spent at this newspaper. I continue to believe now, as when I started here in 1974, that good reporting, properly presented, can improve our lot--appreciably. One need look no further than Portland herself to see how a variety of energetic, thoughtful print outlets can be an integral part of a thriving public life.
During the recently concluded campaign, Al Franken hammered on this phrase from his favorite politician, Paul Wellstone: "The future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard." I still feel passionately about our newspaper and the community we serve, and I know how hard our staff works. I also know, from random encounters, phone calls and letters to the editor, that you are just as passionate about Portland--and work incredibly hard at what you do.
You are our reason for being. That's why it is essential that you keep after us--with questions, complaints, story ideas and, most important, your continued engagement.
Thank you for another good year together,
Select Portland-area media, by total audience:
The Oregonian 896,669
Willamette Week 396,998
Portland Tribune 273,792
Nickel Ads 272,081
Auto Trader 217,322
Jammin 95.5 198,499
Business Journal 123,604
Portland Mercury 123,206
Just Out 75,293
The median age of WW readers is 39.
53 percent are female, 47 percent male.
Average household income: $61,540.
Forty percent of WW's readers (158,730) are between the ages of 18 and 34.
All figures from the Spring/ Summer Media Audit, copyright 2004 by International Demographics, Inc.