PMG President Mark Garber delves into the messaging behind the Spotlight's new look and name, all with an eye to the future of community journalism.

PMG PHOTO - PMG President Mark Garber Observant readers of the Spotlight may have noticed an unfamiliar red flash atop today's front page.

I'm referring to the Columbia County Spotlight's flag — commonly called a masthead — and, with this issue, it has a new look that reflects a new name.

As we move deeper into the 21st century, it was time for the Pamplin Media Group's newspapers to update their flags, most of which date back to the previous century. These changes in print complement the upgrades we made to our websites earlier this month.

As part of this process, in both print and online, we wanted our redesign to convey the core strengths of our media group: local ownership, local focus and strength in numbers.

All these factors contribute to the ongoing stability of our newspapers and websites — a stability that's quite rare in today's media environment.

Without the local ownership of Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr., our media group would not have the advantage of local decision-making about staffing, facilities and long-range planning. Oregonians are all too familiar with the disheartening decline in quality that results when a newspaper cedes control to out-of-state owners.

Because local ownership is key to our current and future success, we're making it an integral part of our brand, in the same way that tire magnate Les Schwab and Bob Moore of Bob's Red Mill are so closely identified with their iconic businesses. That's why you will continue to see the owner's image on the front page — it's a reminder that Pamplin Media Group is an Oregon-based, trusted source of local news and advertising that's here for the long term.

Although we are moving toward a more consistent look across all 25 of our newspapers, the Pamplin Media Group's focus on local news remains the cornerstone of our business. No other media in town — no newspaper, TV station or website — puts as many resources into covering our communities.

The Pamplin group has news and sports reporters, photographers and editors on the ground in all of our coverage areas. Without that fiercely local focus, we'd be just like all the other media in town, chasing the few big stories of the day while ignoring what makes each community unique.

The journalism we produce makes a difference. Due to the work of Spotlight reporters Courtney Vaughn and Nicole Thill, and sports editor Jake McNeal, our readers are granted a weekly pass into the hallways of the Scappoose and St. Helens school districts, where we discover myriad accomplishments from student groups involved in band, robotics clubs, FBLA activities and much, much more.

As you have no doubt noticed, the Spotlight is the only publication in Columbia County with in-depth and comprehensive coverage of sports, from the championship-winning Scappoose golf team to the athletic pursuits of the St. Helens Lions track and field team.

We are also granted access into the inner-workings of Columbia County's governments, keeping tabs on decisions affecting everything from the waterfront development in St. Helens to the Oregon Manufacturing and Innovation Center emerging in Scappoose.

Keeping tabs, in fact, on all the news that directly affects our readers in Columbia County, from Port Westward in the north to Sauvie Island in the south.

For this reason, as well, we have tweaked the name of this publication. As the Columbia County Spotlight we endeavor to embrace a broader focus in Columbia County, maintaining our concentration in the Scappoose and St. Helens areas, but also following the news trail deeper into the county as developments emerge that affect our expanding readership, both in print and online.

As is the case with the Spotlight, each of our two dozen newspapers has a distinctive voice. Some are more than a century old. Others — such as the Portland Tribune, founded in 2001 — are more recent arrivals. It's important, however, for people to recognize the mission of building strong communities through excellent local journalism goes beyond any one paper.

Our ability to operate as a media group allows us to produce more quality reporting and lets our advertisers reach more potential customers. We want that Pamplin Media Group brand to shine in each community we serve, which is why we are bringing some consistent elements to the new flags on all 25 of our front pages.

Finally, our brand — and the values it implies — becomes even more important as the Pamplin group looks to the future of journalism. We are walking in two worlds right now, with a still-robust print audience and a growing digital readership. For many years, our logo — a graphic showing a person holding a printed newspaper — represented just one portion of that readership.

With our latest changes, the Pamplin Media Group has moved away from what our staff fondly called "the reader guy" to a logo that subtly conveys the communication box seen on mobile devices. It's not that digital takes precedence over print, which we plan to continue for decades to come. It's just a recognition that our interaction with readers comes in multiple forms now — print, desktop, tablet, mobile, email, social media and whatever will come next.

The "what's next?" is important, because at least one media company needs to be here to continue the vital democratic function newspapers have performed for centuries.

And that brings me back to the flag atop the front page: It has evolved dozens of times for most of our newspapers as tastes and times changed from the late 1800s into the 20th Century, and now into the 21st. The key is to honor our past while keeping up with the changes, and that's what we are committed to doing.

Mark Garber is president and publisher of the Pamplin Media Group.

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