Readers of The Oregonian got a piece of good news this week: The state's largest newspaper has hired much-decorated and widely respected investigative editor Mark Katches as its new top editor.
That announcement follows stark changes by the state's largest newspaper in its move to the web: Its New York-based owners, Advance Publications, conducted widespread layoffs last summer, and instituted online quotas and incentive pay this spring.
So what kind of newsroom is Katches inheriting?
Ken Doctor, a longtime analyst of the news industry and a onetime editor and publisher in Oregon, today takes a closer look at the state of The Oregonian in a column for Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab.
Among his findings: Doctor says the move to an online-first model has cost The Oregonian a steep drop in print circulation—and not only on the weekdays it no longer offers home delivery.
He says the paper's flagship Sunday edition has dropped below 200,000 paid circulation—a loss of more than half since 1997.
How is the regrouping going? It’s hard to say given the private company’s very selective release of favorable data.
Its digital reading numbers are up impressively, as we suspected they might, given the staunch of print. Advance Local president Randy Siegel recently touted The Oregonian’s OregonLive as a leader of the Advance pack, at 40 percent growth in pageviews. We don’t know its digital ad revenue growth, but can peg in at somewhere between a third and a half of the audience growth. Almost alone among U.S. chains, Advance’s newspapers are still free online, pumping pageviews but receiving no all-access or digital-only reader revenue.
It is, of course, in print that the loss shows. On Sunday, the paper is now under 200,000 for paid copies. It hits a high of 170,000 on full-day weekday editions. For an historical view, consider what those numbers were in 1997: daily circulation of 360,000, 450,000 on Sunday.
But Doctor also sees opportunities for Katches to innovate:
That’s one of the interesting things about the new Advance model. It is religiously digital — its orthodoxy, I still believe, overzealous. Yet it does provide some room, within Advance’s management often-prescriptive mandates, for real positive change. With Oregonian publisher Chris Anderson (a molder of the old Orange County Register’s growth as both editor and publisher) and Mark Katches teaming up, this will now become a new, very watchable experiment in multimedia journalism.
Oregonian publisher N. Christian Anderson III has not responded to WW's request for comment on Doctor's story.
Read Doctor's full analysis at Nieman Journalism Labs.