Les Zaitz, publisher of the Malheur Enterprise, talks with reporter Pat Caldwell at the newspaper's Vale office (East Oregonian/E.J. Harris/file)
Sadly, another newspaper is about to close and a community loses a voice.
The Independent Observer in Payette is scheduled to put out its last weekly edition this week, the final turn for a paper that’s been around since 1890.
The paper is owned by Wick Communications, an Arizona-based company that also owns the Argus Observer in Ontario. The Argus has had its struggles, stopping one day of publication as the pandemic took hold.
This isn’t isolated in today’s America and it’s something that should matter to you. When sources of news disappear, people know less about their community. There is nothing good to come from that.
In state after state, communities are about to experience what it’s like to not know what public officials are doing with their money, to not know about plans for school in the fall, to not know how local businesses made it through this awful time.
The toll grows of local newspapers gone.
The Hastings Star Gazette in Minnesota. The De Smet News in South Dakota. The Hendricks County Flyer in Indiana. The Keota Eagle in Iowa.
The reasons newspapers fail or trim back print days or cut staffing are as varied as the communities they serve.
Advertising that sustained newspapers plummeted. Businesses have shifted billions to digital marketing.
Across the country, locally-owned businesses closed down, run over by chain store behemoths. When they close, their support for community news disappears.
And big corporations want strong profits for their shareholders. They run newspapers first as a source of cash, not of community service.
But some newspapers have done this to themselves. They don’t pay enough attention to serving the community. They don’t provide the watchdog reporting that is the duty of a free press. And they demonstrate bias, leaving readers wondering if they are reading a newspaper or a political organ. That’s especially true of big national newspapers.
At the Malheur Enterprise, we are swimming hard against every one of those currents.
Our business model relies increasingly on readers paying for our work. That’s why we charge separately for a print subscription and a digital subscription.
Our team at the Enterprise works hard to make that service is worth $5 a month.
No one else has more closely monitored on county spending and the questionable Nyssa rail project. No one else questioned an Ontario city councilor over allegations about his behavior. And no one else questioned a powerful local medical provider over its troubling service to the community.
And no one else spotlights local success like the Enterprise. We’ve been running a series, for instance, highlighting teachers who found a way to make distance learning work for kids. That’s an antidote to lots of coverage elsewhere about the failings of such schooling.
This blend of investigative work and community profiles in success appears to be what you and other readers want.
As a result, our subscription rolls grow by the week, contrary to national trends. We have more followers on our Facebook page and our Twitter page than our daily competitor in Ontario. That’s striking because until just a few years ago, the Enterprise had neither.
We’ve been creative at bringing in resources. Our partnerships in recent years with national organizations such as Pro Publica, Report for America and the Solutions Journalism Network have brought us expertise – and money. That money circulates right here in Malheur County.
We’ve created a donor base and gotten financial support from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors and the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication to support our paid intern program. Four interns are at work for the community right now – four jobs bringing four paychecks into Malheur County.
Will this all keep the Enterprise alive and strong? That’s the idea, of course.
But nothing is for certain and there remains the reality that economic forces could one day shutter the Enterprise.
That day won’t come if we keep up our promise to serve the community and readers keep up their support. This is a partnership, and the Enterprise counts on you. If you are a subscriber or donor, you can claim a share of our success. If you don’t subscribe, do so. Maybe getting news for free seems like a good deal – until there is no longer any news to get, as the folks in Payette County are finding out.
Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Enterprise.