Your Weekend Reader for Jan. 21-22

by | Jan 21, 2023 | Weekend Reader | 4 comments

Happy winter weekend, Weekend Reader fans — and a special greeting to Judy Corwin’s students in her journalism class at Central Oregon Community College, even though I know you’re reading this only because it’s an assignment. (Confidential to those students: Despite indications to the contrary, there is hope for journalism.)

It was just last week that the Medford Mail Tribune abruptly pulled the plug on its operations, leaving a big chunk of southern Oregon at risk of becoming one of the nation’s growing “news deserts,” areas without access to reliable news. Now, the EO Media Group has announced plans to launch the Medford Tribune, a three-day-a-week newspaper with an editorial staff of 14. (Full disclosure: I’m doing freelance work for the EO Media Group, which owns 14 papers throughout Oregon and helped save the Bend Bulletin in 2019; EO is a reference to the East Oregonian, its newspaper in Pendleton.) The announcement sets up that rarest of sights these days: An old-fashioned news war between the new paper and the Grants Pass Daily Courier, which has announced plans to expand its coverage to include Medford.

Elsewhere in the state, the news about journalism wasn’t great, particularly a little closer to the mid-valley: Lee Enterprises, which owns the Gazette-Times and the Democrat-Herald, announced that it was shutting down the weekly Lebanon Express after more than a century of publication. The paper said it would continue to cover Lebanon in the D-H, but the fact of the matter is that it won’t offer the kind of coverage that the Express did. I wonder if this might prompt Scott Swanson, the publisher of the New Era weekly newspaper in Sweet Home, to consider an expansion of the New Era’s Lebanon Local website. Also last week, the Albany-Corvallis paper (it’s a combined newsroom now, and has been for years) laid off a couple of veterans: photographer Andy Cripe and news editor Kyle Odegard. If I’m counting correctly (and I might not be, because the listing of the paper’s staff on its website is out of date), that leaves just four people on staff who were there when I was laid off about three years ago.

Speaking of Lee Enterprises, I somehow missed this story by Axios from November, which reported that Alden Global Capital, the predatory hedge fund that has made a practice of buying newspapers and imposing rapacious cuts in their newsrooms, has (for now) quietly abandoned its efforts to acquire Lee. Axios reported that rising interest rates and a tougher market to finance deals prompted Alden to set the deal aside — but nothing says it can’t revive its efforts. Which begs this question: If that time eventually comes, what will be left of these Lee newsrooms?

By the way, Axios has previously reported that more than 360 U.S. newspapers closed between late 2019 and May 2022. The country is on track to lose more than one-third of its total papers by 2025, and another recession could be particularly devastating for newspapers — since so many of them now are owned by hedge funds motivated primarily by short-term profit, an additional dip in revenue, with few cost-cutting options remaining, could prompt additional closures.

Didn’t I start this edition of the Weekend Reader by telling Judy’s students that there is hope for journalism? Perhaps I spoke prematurely. Students, we’ll talk more about this offline.

While we’re talking about journalism, here’s a story from Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton in which he takes a long look at the “hypodermic” theory about information and misinformation that journalists like to tell themselves — that is, the notion that providing accurate information can serve as an inoculation of sorts against misinformation. Now, it’s probably overstating the case to argue that offering access to the facts can by itself save democracy — but it is, still, important work. Benton points to three pieces from recent days that reach a couple of conclusions: The good news is that misinformation may not be as powerful as we feared. The bad news — and, really, journalists know this deep in their hearts — is that accurate information by itself may not be as powerful as we think.

The Oregon Legislature began its 2023 session this week with a long list of pressing issues to tackle — and, already, more than 2,000 bills, resolutions and memorials on file. The Oregon Capital Chronicle did a nice job of summarizing the biggest issues lawmakers face in this preview story. (Full disclosure again: I do an occasional freelance story for the Capital Chronicle.) If you’re wondering how many of those bills actually become law, the number — based on the last two 160-day sessions — is about 25%.

The Oregonian/Oregon Live has a well-done obituary of longtime Trail Blazers’ broadcaster Bill Schonely, the man who coined the phrase “Rip City” during his broadcast of a Blazers game in February 1971. He broadcast games for the Blazers’ first 28 seasons. Schonely died at age 93.

An alarming story from The New York Times reports how three Montana grizzly bears euthanized last spring tested positive for avian flu. The discovery is stoking worries that the disease, which has killed millions of poultry in the last year, is spreading to other animal groups. (Like all Times stories mentioned in the Weekend Reader, this one is available only to subscribers, but I can send you a free link to the story — if you need something else to worry about.)

The Associated Press for decades has grabbed headlines with its weekly polls asking experts which college football or basketball teams are the best in the nation. This week, the AP expanded that approach to movies — by asking 26 of the nation’s movie critics (all of whom had to work for an AP-affiliated outlet) to rank 2022’s movie crop. I’m not sure if this is a good idea or a bad one — but it is irresistible. And let’s be honest: You want to know which movies made the list, right? Here’s the top five, in order: “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “Tar,” “Nope” and “The Woman King.” All five of those played in Corvallis, and one of them — “Banshees” — currently is at the AMC Corvallis 12.

Hey, journalism students! You still with me? In that case, here’s a story from The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson about the power of dumb questions — and why he’s working to stop asking smart questions in his own interviews. It’s valuable advice for young journalists — or, really, for anybody else.

That’s it for this weekend. See you next weekend. In the meantime, ask some dumb questions and see what happens.

Correction

An earlier version of Your Weekend Reader misidentified the Medford Mail Tribune. The column has been corrected.

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4 Comments

  1. Jack Compere

    … I’ve come once again to have a brief chat about your use of “Which begs this question…” I think you know where this is headed, erudite fellow you. On the other hand, is it possible that your (mis)use of the expression is so popular that it’s now common usage, as often happens? For all intense purposes, I mean..

    Reply
    • Mike McInally

      Point taken, Jack. But regardless of whether I’m using it correctly, it’s a cliche — lazy writing — and I should have fixed it before I posted this edition.

      Reply
  2. Pat Eastman

    Mike,
    The adage “you don’t realize what you had until it is gone”, may not apply to local newspapers given the quick abandonment of them by some of us. Given that a very large group of “local” folks never knew the importance of print reporting and investigation because social media was what they grew up on. The fastfood version of something that may slightly resemble honest reporting, and is so much easier to aquire and metabolize, they will not be able to realize they are missing real honest and fearless reporting. They won’t believe that what they choose as journalism, is not.
    Sad.
    Be well sir.

    Reply
    • Mike McInally

      It is sad — and, to that end, I should have made it clear (as I have before) that readers still should support their local newspaper, even if that local newspaper (and I don’t mean here to single out any particular paper) sometimes makes it very difficult to justify that support.

      Reply

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