Hillsboro Signal, Gales Creek Journal newspapers launch in county
Most Tuesday nights, you can find Justin Pot at one of his favorite places: Hillsboro City Council meetings.
His laptop at the ready, Pot, 31, spends his Tuesdays posting frequently to Twitter, updating his followers about the latest happenings.
Pot is the editor of the Hillsboro Signal, an online newspaper that launched in March, covering the goings-on at city council and Hillsboro School Board meetings.
Pot isn't alone. While stories of the struggling newspaper industry continue to dominate the national conversation, in Washington County a contingent of small, independent journalists have been hard at work launching local newspapers.
The Gales Creek Journal will launch its first print edition Nov. 1, covering the rural areas outside of Cornelius and North Plains, as well as the communities of Gales Creek, Banks, Buxton and Manning.
The newspaper is the brainchild of 22-year-old Chas Hundley, who lives in Gales Creek north of Forest Grove. For the past few years, Hundley has run a blog aimed at hyper-local coverage of his small town and other communities often overlooked by the Portland-area media.
"I want to provide the full newspaper experience" for those small towns, he said. "I also want to get more into heavy investigative journalism in these rural areas. There's a lot going on out here that people should know about."
Hundley and his older brother Matt started the blog to unite the Gales Creek community after its local store, post office and school closed over the past decade, he said.
"It filled a need I felt wasn't being met in Gales Creek," Hundley said. "And as I got more involved in this, I greatly enjoyed it."
Back in Hillsboro, Pot said he started his site as a way to spread the word about local politics.
"I have always told everyone that local politics is what we should pay attention to, but I've never done much about it," he said. "In the mental state I was in this year, it seemed important to do it. I started going to city council meetings and writing about them."
The Signal has three volunteer writers, including Pot, who attend city council and school board meetings each week and also run a small community calendar of events.
Pot said he doesn't see himself as competition for other local media, but rather as a service for the community.
"I see us as a group of people learning about their community, and trying to explain what we learn," he said. "There is a value in going to city council meetings. We're becoming experts in how it works."
Pot, who writes about technology for the website "How To Geek," said he has always considered himself to be a journalist. He worked as a reporter for the Record-Gazette in Alberta, Canada, before moving to the U.S. in 2008.
"I knew I wanted to do local journalism again someday," he said. "I really wish I could fix the economics of journalism and have five newspapers covering every meeting, but I can't," he said. "What I can do is attend the meetings."
Pot said people spend too much time concerning themselves with national politics, and not enough time with local politics.
"There is such a hyper-obsession with national politics, and it's toxic," Pot said. "Obsessing over it isn't going to change anything, but you can change things at the local level quite a bit. That's how democracy works, it's from the ground up."
At a time when declarations of "fake news" dominate headlines, Pot said that local journalism is more important than ever.
"There's a sense that we've lost the plot," Pot said. "The media has lost its way, and people who read the media have lost theirs. It's so easy to read only what's gone viral and see that as 'the media,' but there are a bunch of people doing good stuff, like the Trib, that don't find their stories on the front page of Reddit."
The Signal and Journal launch at a period of deep uncertainty in the newspaper industry. Washington County's longest-serving newspaper, The Hillsboro Argus, shut down production earlier this year after 123 years in business. The newspaper faced years of layoffs and dwindling revenue.
Pot isn't interested in making money off his passion, he said.
"Some people doubt, but I don't see any reason why this won't be successful," Hundley said. "It is not going to be easy, I know, but I'm confident in the community and myself."
Pot said he's not sure what the future holds for his website. He's not sure if he wants to print a physical newspaper, as the Journal plans to do.
"Right now, I see a value in going to the meetings and going through the exercise," he said.
Reporter Stephanie Haugen contributed to this report.