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Hyperlocal Ashland news site to launch in January

Erik Neumann
Ashland News Executive Editor Bert Etling at an announcement for the launch of the news site.

Ashland is just one of Oregon’s small communities where newspaper coverage has been shrinking in recent years. But creators of a new hyperlocal journalism website are hoping to fend off that trend.

With a simple, straightforward name, Ashland News is the latest example of an online publication trying to fill the vacuum of disappearing newspapers in Oregon.

“We have lots of ways of knowing what’s going on in the nation and the world but evolving technologies and economic conditions have left us with seemingly ever-dwindling access to reliable, comprehensive information about what’s closest to us,” says Bert Etling, executive editor of Ashland News.

Etling is the former editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings, which largely disappeared into its co-owned Medford-based Mail Tribune in recent years.

While the pandemic has demonstrated the need for reliable, factual information, it also accelerated newsroom closures and mergers as newspaper advertising shrank. In addition to recent year-long declines, a recent study by the Pew Research Center showed that median newspaper ad revenue declined by 42% between 2019 and 2020 among six large newspaper companies.

In light of these trends, a growing number of outlets are experimenting with nonprofit models.

The online-only Ashland News will initially employ Etling, reporter Holly Dillemuth, who previously worked with JPR, and freelance writers. Based on future fundraising success, Etling hopes to employ 4.5 journalists. Stories will be published three-to-five times per week. As a nonprofit, it will operate on a public radio-style model of donations, sponsorships and grant funding.

Etling has also edited the Applegater, a nonprofit news website covering the 700-square mile Applegate Valley.

The newsroom will focus on what Etling describes as “communities of interest” including Ashland and Talent, as well as neighboring unincorporated areas. It will start publishing in mid-January

“Ashland is a vital, engaged, caring, innovative, accomplished community,” Etling says. “It needs a vital, engaged, caring local news source. Together we can build a better news source that makes this a better community.”

Clarification: a previous version of this story said Ashland News will employ four journalists. They will initially employ two, plus freelancers with the goal of hiring 4.5 full-time staff depending on fundraising.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.