Recording the little life is a big, rewarding job
- John Schrag
- Forest Grove News-Times - News
Through good times and bad, a committed staff has chronicled a community
Twelve years ago I had the good fortune to be working at Willamette Week when the feisty Portland alternative newspaper turned 25.
Being WW - and being the end of the booming '90s - we rented a big hall, hired a band, bought some booze (OK, we bought a lot of booze) and partied like it was, well, 1999.
If you had grabbed me that evening and told me that the next newspaper anniversary I'd be celebrating would be one hundred and twenty-five, I'd have figured you'd been hanging out in the stairwell with the bass player.
Back then, I figured community newspapers were a good stepping stone to a post at a small daily. Something I might read, but not a place where a serious journalist like me would hang his hat.
Well, here I am, more than six years into the best job of my life. And, as we prepared for this anniversary issue, I was reminded of how lucky I am.
Unfortunately, I never got the chance to meet Hugh McGilvra, whose name appears throughout the following pages.
He didn't start the News-Times, but he owned and managed it for more than 50 years.
McGilvra, by all accounts, was a talented journalist. But more importantly, he was a savvy businessman. By spinning off a separate and highly profitable printing plant, McGilvra gave the News-Times the financial security it needed.
It took me a while to learn that lesson. I remember sharing lunch with Mark Garber, who was then publisher of the Gresham Outlook and, like me, had come up through the news side of the business.
'The most important thing you can do for the paper,' he said, as we walked back to the office, 'is to sell an ad.'
In my head, I protested. That's not why I studied journalism. That's not how you keep local governments accountable.
But Mark was right.
Newspapers are only as good as the people they have working for them.
I was lucky to inherit a talented staff and to be able to build an even more talented crew.
I was unlucky in that I came to the job during a huge decline in newspaper revenues, thanks, in part, to the loss of classified advertising to the web.
Still, company officials were patient, allowing me time to learn the business end of the business.
It's been tough. Like most employers, I've had to cut staff, implement furloughs and flat-line salaries.
But, the worst seems over and the paper is poised to end the year in the black. It's not a profit margin that would satisfy Wall Street, but it's good enough for my bosses and, most likely, would have been good enough for 'Mr. Mac.'
The other name you'll see frequently on these pages is Pat Wagler, the long-time community columnist for the News-Times.
I met Wagler a few times prior to her death in 2008, and I could see immediately why, following McGilvra's departure, she came to embody the News-Times.
While researching this issue, I came across a column Pat wrote to honor McGilvra upon his retirement in 1983. In it she captures, far better than I could, the mission of the paper.
'Granted,' she wrote, 'a really good community paper… records the big and truly earth shaking events that happen to its people. But… it's in recording the 'little life' of the city - the council decision, the school board meetings, the progress on the new housing development, the new babies, the weddings, the game-tying run - that a community newspaper can excel.'
'Hugh McGilvra knew this,' Pat concluded, 'and for more than 50 years, kept those records well. He leaves the entire area richer for his having been here.'
It's my privilege to be part of a talented team that is carrying on that tradition.
We hope that we, too, leave this community richer than we found it.