Let’s start with a deep dive into the state of local newspapers today. I promise I have some fun reads in store this weekend, but this isn’t one of them: Elaine Godfrey, a staff writer at The Atlantic, took a long look at what happened when the newspaper chain GateHouse (now Gannett, after the two giants merged) bought the paper in her hometown, The Hawk Eye in Burlington, Iowa. Here’s a spoiler alert: It isn’t pretty. The story adds anecdotal punch to what academic studies already are telling us — that communities without a local newspaper (or with a newspaper that’s been so decimated by cost-cutting that it can’t properly do its job) become more isolated and more divided as citizens rely on national news and lose a key connection to their community. If you’re scoring at home, both the Eugene Register-Guard and the Salem Statesman Journal are owned by Gannett.
So it’s no wonder that most of the employees at newspapers with less than 50,000 circulation (and most U.S. newspapers fall into that category) are increasingly pessimistic about the futures of those papers, according to a new survey released this week. The Nieman Lab at Harvard has the details.
In Oregon, there are some bright spots, although they’re not necessarily tied to newspapers. States Newsroom, a national nonprofit organization that puts online newsrooms into state capitals around the nation, has just launched its Oregon effort, the Oregon Capital Chronicle. The States Newsroom effort comes in response to a marked decline in newspaper coverage of state governments — papers have downsized or eliminated their capital bureaus and the Associated Press doesn’t cover capitals the way it used to. The Oregon Capital Chronicle has a four-person newsroom, and all of its content is available for free (and can even be republished by other newspapers). The Capital Chronicle is led by the man who arguably is the dean of Oregon political and government coverage, Les Zaitz. (Full disclosure: I applied for the editor’s job as well, but truthfully, I myself would have hired Les.) Best wishes to the Capital Chronicle; I’ll be keeping an eye on it, and will highlight some its coverage in the Weekly Reader.
And here’s another update about Oregon journalism: My former colleague at the Gazette-Times, Bennett Hall, has landed the editor’s job at the weekly Blue Mountain Eagle in John Day. You can keep an eye on the work he and his newsroom are doing by clicking here. Here’s a column Bennett wrote introducing himself to the community.
If you’ve sold or bought a house lately, you might have been the recipient (or possibly the author) of what real estate agents call a “love letter” — a personal note from prospective buyers to a seller explaining how much they love the house. We got one of those when we were selling our house, and it was very nice, although it wasn’t really necessary — theirs was the only offer we had at the time. Nevertheless, experts say these letters can tip the balance in a competitive house-buying situation — and that they might play a role in maintaining the country’s big racial gap when it comes to home ownership. That’s part of the reason why Oregon has become the first state in the nation to ban these love letters in real estate transactions. Real estate agents say they won’t miss the letters. Here’s a story explaining all this from NPR’s Deena Prichep.
Is it too early to start handicapping the 2022 Oscar race? Kyle Buchanan, who writes the entertaining “Projectionist” column for The New York Times, doesn’t think so — and writes about the leading contenders in this new piece. Tellingly, only one of the titles he mentions — “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” with a showy performance from a nearly unrecognizable Jessica Chastain — has opened yet in the mid-valley.
When right-wing comedian Greg Gutfeld debuted his late-night comedy show “Gutfeld!” on Fox News earlier this year, he made no secret of his ambition to knock current late-night king Stephen Colbert from his perch atop the ratings. Since then, Gutfeld has crept closer in the ratings — and for one night at least, in August, beat Colbert. Here’s a piece from The Conversation about the rise of conservative comedy — and why it shouldn’t be surprising that Gutfeld has emerged as a big factor in the late-night rating wars.
Here’s another piece from The Conversation, about our love-hate relationship with Facebook. The author updated this piece, which initially ran in 2019, after Facebook’s outage this week. (I should note that The Conversation is a site that aims to package serious academic research into op-ed pieces suitable for newspapers. I used some of their pieces back when I was editing the opinion pages of the G-T.)
Well, maybe it’s not always serious academic research in The Conversation: Here’s a piece from 2015 that mysteriously reappeared this week on its home page. It explores why fart jokes never get old. And it features a bit of trivia that will serve you well at the next party you attend (assuming that there will be a next party): The oldest recorded joke in history — it dates back to 1900 BC — was about farting.
One last note: If you’ve got an hour to spare Saturday at 6 p.m., check out The Arts Center’s annual “Art for the Heart” fundraising gala. It’s live and online. A familiar face will be hosting.