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JoCo commissioners removed public notices from the Grants Pass Courier. Residents say it’s retaliation.

Josephine County Commissioner Herman Baertschiger speaking at a wildfire townhall in Grants Pass in 2022.
Erik Neumann
Josephine County Commissioner Herman Baertschiger speaking at a wildfire townhall in Grants Pass in 2022.

The Josephine County commissioners made a decision to move where the county publishes public notices from the Grants Pass Daily Courier to the much smaller Illinois Valley News.

Residents in Josephine County are angry at local commissioners for making what they call a political decision to remove required public notices from the Rogue Valley’s largest newspaper on Wednesday morning.

Dozens of residents attended the commissioners meeting to chastise the board in what they said was retaliation against the Courier because of the newspaper’s critical coverage of county government.

“It appears to be a desire to inflict economic harm on who you view as your political enemy," said Josephine County resident Sharon McCorkle.

The Courier has a print circulation of 9,200 throughout Josephine County, while the Illinois Valley News said they have a print circulation of 1,350 copies, with an additional 400 online subscribers. After last week's abrupt closure of the Medford Mail Tribune, the Courier became the Rogue Valley's largest newspaper. The Courier recently announced plans to expand into Jackson County, to fill the void left by the Mail Tribune.

Commissioners have criticized the Courier for publishing what they say are false statements about the county. The Courier rejects the accusation and stands by its reporting.

"What I heard from all three of you is vindictiveness," said Grants Pass resident David Wood. "You're not arguing what you said you wanted to do. You're arguing the fact that the Courier has made you uncomfortable. I look now and I see three men with very thin skins."

The commissioners argue the change was intended to save money, but did not offer a specific amount. In a previous meeting, Treasurer Eve Arce said the county currently pays about the same to publish notices in both papers. Board Chair Herman Baertschiger added the county received a memo from the Illinois Valley News saying they were expanding coverage and would be open to negotiating new costs for public notices.

The county did not respond to requests to clarify how much the county spends on public notices in the paper and how much could be saved by switching to the Illinois Valley News. According to Courier publisher Travis Moore, the county spent less than $20,000 on public notice ads last year.

“I’m voting to potentially save money and give access to more people than just people that subscribe to the Courier," Baertschiger said during Wednesday's meeting.

However, both the Courier and the Illinois Valley News currently make their public notices available to readers for free on their websites. Public notices are also available on a separate website from the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association.

Arce also said with the Illinois Valley News publishing only once a week — compared to five days with the Courier — scheduling when to post public notices will be more difficult.

In a statement on the decision, Courier publisher Moore said "Hiding the county’s notices in a newspaper that very few Josephine County residents outside the Illinois Valley will ever see is a betrayal of the public trust and is yet another example of this Board’s disdain for democratic processes and the public’s right to be informed."

The board approved the decision 2-1. Commissioner Dan DeYoung said the decision should be delayed to find out how much the county would save if they were to switch, a request not supported by the other two commissioners.

Updated: January 18, 2023 at 5:57 PM PST
This story has been updated to include a response from the publisher of the Daily Courier
Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.