Tuned In: A New Day For News
The recent shakeup of the newspaper business in the Rogue Valley has created quite a stir.
In January, Rosebud Media announced on two days’ notice that the Medford Mail Tribune was going out of business (it discontinued its print publication in September 2022 and has been publishing online only since then). Soon after Rosebud’s announcement, the Grants Pass Daily Courier announced that it would increase news coverage in Jackson County and expand its circulation in the county. A few days later, EO Media Group, a private Oregon-based company which publishes the Bend Bulletin and the Eastern Oregonian in Pendleton along with more than a dozen other newspapers and publications in Oregon, entered the field saying it would launch the Rogue Valley Tribune to fill the void left by the shuttered Mail Tribune.
The closing of another newspaper was not a surprise to many, especially one serving a non-urban metropolitan area. According to the 2020 report The Expanding News Desert by Penelope Muse Abernathy, the former Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina, the United States has lost one-fourth of its newspapers since 2004. And today, more than 200 of the nation’s 3,143 counties have no newspaper and no alternative source of credible information on critical issues—with two-thirds of all counties lacking a daily newspaper. What was surprising was that multiple family-owned publishing companies jumped in to replace the Mail Tribune so quickly. Abernathy told the Seattle Times, “I’m not aware of any other situation like this, where you’ve had both a journalistic and business commitment made this swiftly, when a daily has closed.”
While the commitments by both the Daily Courier and EO Media are extremely positive developments for the civic life of the Rogue Valley, the economics of sustaining high-quality local news through existing business models will be a challenge. The next generation of news consumers has little affinity for the nostalgia of print publications. And the existing system that allows big tech companies to monetize the digital content of journalists and local news organizations without sharing any of the revenue that content generates will continue to be a significant hurdle.
In addition, the paywalls that have now become commonplace for most newspapers pose real philosophical and equity problems for our democratic society. Under the current model, if a newspaper is successful, it may achieve a combined print and digital circulation of 20% of adults living in a community, according to circulation estimates published by Pew Research. This would mean that, under the existing subscription/paywall structure, 80% of adult citizens would not have access to much fact-based local news content, with many of those citizens belonging to lower socioeconomic groups. In the old days, that would mean that most people would simply be uninformed, but today social media enthusiastically fills that vacuum with propaganda, opinions and misinformation that generate “clicks” while sowing the seeds for a polarized culture and a dysfunctional political environment.
Here at JPR, we welcome the new revitalized local news ecosystem in the Rogue Valley and look forward to working with our new journalism colleagues. Thanks to you, we’ll also be expanding our own newsroom in the coming year with the goal of providing deeper local journalism and telling stories that bring people together through public radio’s unique voice.