Willamette Week

But let's start with a look at the present. Just consider the past couple of months, during which we have: 

  1. Interviewed practically every candidate and ballot measure representative in the Portland area, published some of the most intelligent—and respected—political endorsements in the state, and broken the most important political news of the year;
  1. Held our second annual—and wildly successful—Pro/Am Beer Festival;
  1. Published a terrific Restaurant Guide and held a Secret Supper for readers at our Restaurant of the Year, Kachka;
  1. Produced our 11th annual Give!Guide (more about that later) and this week held a kickoff party and Skidmore Prize celebration at the Leftbank Annex;
  1. Nearly completed a mammoth digital archive of all 2,000-plus back issues;
  1. Installed a special new Art Box, designed and executed by Ivan McLean, to distribute copies of WW outside the Portland Art Museum;
  1. And—in an effort that began last spring—brought you this remarkable special 40th anniversary issue. 

Financially, 2014 is going to turn out better than 2013. Our revenues are up slightly, and we're projecting a small profit. Our challenge has not been with the Internet but with an economy that continues to be tough for small- and medium-sized businesses—our treasured advertisers. It's been the case since 2008, and we're seeing signs the economy is better. With a little luck—and no global jolts—2015 looks to be a better year still.

So who says newspapers are moribund? Certainly not this ragtag outfit.

My favorite—and most challenging—college professor, Theodore Baird, had an exercise he did with students. He'd ask if we'd like to be able to see into the future. Then, once he'd gotten even the most skeptical to agree, he'd roar: "How can you think that? If I knew what was going to happen next—but couldn't do anything about it—I THINK I'D GO CRAZY!"

I was here in the fall of 1974, when WW published its first issue. If I had then possessed the power to look 40 years into the future, I'd have gone more than crazy.

It was nearly unthinkable that this plain vanilla burg could become as creative and energized as it is today—a paradigm for food, bicycles, beer, coffee, distilled spirits, effective mass transit, organic agriculture, and an incredible DIY culture spawning everything from food carts to local designers' shops. Nor could any but the wildest dreamer have imagined fledgling Nike and Columbia Sportswear would become world-beaters, or that we'd have a burgeoning tech sector. And the sharing economy? Huh?

If you'd told me what lay four decades ahead when it came to the media, I'd have thought you were the crazy one. Desktop computers? We wrote on manual typewriters back in 1974; mine was an Olivetti 32. The Internet? Smartphones? Tablets? Really?

In those early days, WW was a mere flea next to the town's journalistic elephant, The Oregonian. To think, 40 years later, that our print readership among 18-to-54-year-olds would exceed The Oregonian's would have seemed utterly impossible. Or that this fall, fully 36 percent of adults in the tri-county area would say they "regularly read or look at Willamette Week." (That's according to a market survey recently performed by Davis Hibbitts Midghall Research). Simply unimaginable!

We might have once found joy in the suffering of a long-standing antagonist. But no longer. The Oregonian's rapid decline over the past year poses our most serious challenge.

By reducing frequency, size and staffing, Portland's former daily is losing readers at a dizzying clip. I've always thought of The Oregonian as the city's center of public debate. Now, Portland's most prominent public square is decaying, and we are all the worse for it.

So what are we as proud Portlanders to do? More specifically, what should WW do, given available resources and our philosophy of journalism?

If you count liberally, we have just 10 full-time employees in our newsroom, aided by a healthy number of freelancers. More to the point, we have always thought of ourselves as an alternative to the daily—both in coverage and viewpoint. Our philosophy is to serve as an agent of change and engagement. Now, Portlanders increasingly turn to us while the city's newspaper of record fades. That creates plenty of new challenges—and new opportunities.

We don't aspire to play the role of a daily—that's not in our DNA. How we conduct ourselves in this changing landscape will be the subject of much internal discussion and debate these next six to 12 months. 

What we will not lose sight of is this: You are our reason for being.

So I ask you: Assuming we can expand our print and digital offerings, how can we be more useful? And what can we do to get you more engaged in Portland's public life? Please email me at rmeeker@wweek.com, or write me c/o WW, 2220 NW Quimby St., Portland OR 97210. Your thoughts and suggestions will be taken seriously.

One last matter: That Give!Guide I mentioned earlier. It's inserted in each copy of this week's paper—and can be viewed online at giveguide.org. 

This is the 11th year of our annual effort to instill the year-end giving habit in our readers, especially those under the age of 36. 

Please take a moment to read about the incredible Skidmore Prize winners before reviewing the 136 local nonprofits participating this year. Then go to the website and set your debit or credit card free for a few moments. You'll be glad you did.

Thanks again for another great year together,