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Turning a 'crazy idea' into a growing community asset

After years of “what ifs,” the call I’d been hoping for finally came.

We were going to start a newspaper in Hillsboro.

A lot of folks thought we were crazy, given that in the summer of 2012 our industry was in the middle of its worst recession in history. Papers were folding (152 the previous year), not launching.

But crazy or not, we were going to do it.

The idea had captivated me soon after I’d been hired, seven years earlier, as the editor and publisher of the News-Times in Forest Grove.

At first, it was because of a hole in our company’s advertising map. The Pamplin Media Group had papers serving the rest of Washington County: North Plains to Sherwood, Forest Grove to Beaverton. All those communities were assigned a nice pastel color in marketing materials. But in the middle was a sad white space, which didn’t even warrant a name, home to the largest municipality in the county.

Having a paper in Hillsboro, I thought, would help our advertisers who wanted to reach potential customers in a growing city. It would allow us to share and pursue stories that didn’t stop at city limits and cover the people, places and events in an exciting, vibrant community.

The problem was that there was already a damn good community paper in Hillsboro. In fact, when I first started at the News-Times, I’d grab the Argus twice a week to steal ideas.

So, as much as we’d “what if,” we couldn’t make it pencil out.

But as the recession hit, the Argus, like many papers, began to cut its staff and its size. Then its parent company, Advance Publications, ordered the brass at The Oregonian (another of its papers) to begin taking a larger role in operations. The publisher and editor were forced out, decisions started coming from Portland and the Argus became, as it said on its front page, “an edition of The Oregonian” instead of a local paper.

Suddenly there was another hole, this time inside the city itself. The Oregonian had taken the community out of its community newspaper.

We again started asking “what if” and this time the answers were promising — and exciting.

And so when that early summer call came, I was thrilled. Less than three months later, on Sept. 7, 2012, the Hillsboro Tribune debuted.

Since then the paper has grown from a twice-monthly to a weekly, assembled an amazing staff and filled in that gap on the map — and in the community.

Yet when another call and new opportunity recently came my way, I realized this was a good time to let someone else take the paper to the next level.

And when Nikki DeBuse, the longtime publisher of the Woodburn Independent, agreed to take the job of publisher, any lingering doubts I had about my decision evaporated.

The transformation of the newspaper industry, sparked by the ascension of digital news platforms, continues to create both new opportunities and new challenges for the Tribune. Nikki is well-suited to handle both — in some ways better than I am.

Like me, Nikki came up through the news side of the business, starting out as a reporter at the Independent and working her way up to the top job. Along the way, she developed a knack for finding ways to serve her community through good journalism, creative partnerships and innovative marketing products.

She’s already jumped into several projects and as of Monday, she will be your publisher.

As for me, I’ve been given the best journalism job in the state.

As executive editor for the Pamplin Media Group, I will head the news operations of the largest locally owned media company in Oregon. I get to work with an amazing collection of editors — people like Kathy Fuller — who work for 24 papers, ranging from the Newberg Graphic and Sandy Post to the Portland Tribune and the Madras Pioneer.

My charge is to build on the great work our company’s 100-plus journalists are already doing in their communities and marshal their forces — as well as those of our media partners — to demonstrate that a robust, independent, professional press is still vital to the democratic process.

We’ll be looking for ways to hold those in power accountable, get to the stories behind the headlines and highlight the people and groups working to strengthen our communities.

John Schrag’s new email is:

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