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Bankruptcy ends about as well is it could, as an Oregon family steps in to buy an important institution

FILE PHOTO - Mark Garber, president, Pamplin Media GroupThe fine Central Oregon community of Bend is outside the boundaries of what we normally cover here at Pamplin Media Group, given that our 25 newspapers are so intensely focused on local surroundings.

However, for those who care deeply about Oregon journalism, the climactic act in the long-running drama of the Bend Bulletin newspaper provided reason for attention and applause. After many twists and turns, the Bulletin's bankruptcy and subsequent placement on the auction block ended about as well as it could have. EO Media Group — an Oregon-owned company with a century-old tradition for quality journalism — emerged as the winner, purchasing the Bulletin and nearby Redmond Spokesman for $3.65 million.

EO Media's purchase means one bedrock Oregon newspapering family is taking the reins from another, and that's good for the community and state. It also has a side benefit for Pamplin Media Group, which collaborates with EO Media Group on the Oregon Capital Bureau. Now, our well-regarded capital coverage, led by veteran journalist Les Zaitz (who has his own small group of media outlets), will reach even more Oregon residents.

The Bulletin found itself in the middle of a July 29 bankruptcy auction at a Portland law office because its previous owners made a fatal mistake in timing. They constructed an expensive new headquarters and press in Bend in the year 2000, just before a pair of recessions unraveled the business model for carrier-delivered daily newspapers.

Newspapers and public service

Before EO Media Group stepped in, the Bulletin and Spokesman almost fell into the hands of out-of-state owners. Oregonians already know how that story would have played out — with an emphasis on immediate cost-cutting vs. long-term community commitment.

As it stands, the papers' fate will instead be controlled by EO Media and a few community-minded Bend investors. This outcome is fitting for the Bulletin, which was led for decades by Robert W. Chandler, a legendary Oregon newspaperman known for his blunt opinions, independence and unbridled love for Central Oregon. He expanded his company, Western Communications Inc., into eight newspapers at its peak and his heirs kept the company going until the bankruptcy.

(Quick Chandler story: He once chastised reporter Bob Welch for misspelling a word and the reporter had the nerve to show him via a dictionary that he'd spelled the word correctly. Chandler's response: "Welch, get a new dictionary.")

In the same newspapering vein as Chandler, but of divergent political inclinations and perhaps better spelling, is the family that owns EO Media Group. Steve Forrester of Astoria is the group's chairman. He and his cousin, Kathryn Brown, and the company's chief operating officer, Heidi Wright, are adding the La Grande Observer and the Baker City Herald, as well as the Bulletin and Spokesman, to their existing group of 11 newspapers.

Steve's father, J.W. "Bud" Forrester, was a contemporary of Chandler's and another unforgettable journalist of his day. A brilliant editor, he — like Chandler — mixed newspapering and public service in a manner that is seldom employed today.

Facing challenges

The sale of Western Communication's newspapers comes at a time of extraordinary consolidation in the newspaper industry as it makes the transition into the digital age. Nationally, Gannett Co. and GateHouse Media are talking about a merger that would bring approximately 250 daily newspapers and up to 2,000 non-dailies under one corporate ownership.

These sorts of mega-mergers allow for cost savings and consolidation, but rarely are good for community journalism, as pressures from Wall Street investors preempt local decision-making.

The Pamplin Media Group, with 25 publications, and EO Media Group, now with 15, have faced the same challenges affecting an entire industry, but our local niches and our committed local owners have helped allow civic-minded journalism to flourish in Oregon.

The Oregon Capital Bureau is a good example of the types of partnerships needed in this new journalistic age. EO Media and Pamplin Media each supply one reporter for the bureau. Zaitz's Salem Reporter brings a third. Together, they provide the most consistent, comprehensive, reader-focused coverage of state government in Oregon. And with that content now appearing in 40-plus newspapers and websites throughout the state, the Capital Bureau offers Oregonians a common set of facts to judge their state government.

Those of us working in newsrooms, whether in print or digital, see that as the core of our mission: giving people a shared understanding of issues from credible sources that hire actual journalists to cover their communities and state.

And that's why there is reason to celebrate when an Oregon-owned company that exemplifies those values steps in to rescue an important institution like the Bulletin.

J. Mark Garber is president and publisher of the Pamplin Media Group and worked for EO Media in the 1990s, as publisher of the daily East Oregonian and manager of its nearby sister newspapers.


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