I have written a few introductory columns during my 20-year career (man, has it been that long?) in the newspaper business.
After all, stops in Nampa, Idaho, Ontario, La Grande and Pendleton, along with Pierre and Rapid City, S.D., have provided plenty of opportunity to tell people a little about myself.
And now we can add Wallowa County to the list.
I am the new editor of the Chieftain, taking over for Ellen Morris Bishop, who remains on staff as a reporter, along with Bill Bradshaw.
However, that’s where I’m going to end the introductory part. After writing more of these than I care to admit, I’ve come to realize most readers don’t care. What they do care about is what you plan to do now that you’re in the new location — it doesn’t matter where you’ve been and what you’ve done, it matters where you are and what you plan to do.
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on businesses across the United States, Oregon and even here in Wallowa County. The EO Media Group, owners of the Wallowa County Chieftain, haven’t been immune to the effects either. Readers might remember that back in March, EO Media Group reduced its workforce by 47 employees because of the impact of the COVID-19 virus.
The Chieftain wasn’t spared — a third reporter who departed just prior to the layoffs was not replaced. That made an already stretched thin staff a little thinner.
The reason for the layoffs was simple. Newspapers depend on advertising revenue. With major businesses, including big box stores, either closing their doors or pulling back their advertising, the revenue the company depends on was gone. It is simple capitalism, simple math really, but I didn’t like it then and I like it even less now.
The pandemic and the layoffs triggered an evaluation of the company’s operation on the east side of the state and an assessment of how can we work smarter, not harder. The answer, at least in Wallowa County, was to have Ellen, a supremely talented writer and photographer, focus on those two strengths and leave the editor responsibilities of the Chieftain to someone else.
Who knew that someone would turn out to be me? Not I, but now that it’s become a reality, it’s been a re-energizing experience. Something I didn’t know I needed.
My “day job” is as the publisher/editor of the East Oregonian, publisher of the Hermiston Herald, and regional editorial director of the EO Media Group’s eastside publications, which include the Chieftain, East Oregonian, Baker City Herald, La Grande Observer, Hermiston Herald and Blue Mountain Eagle. It’s a fancy title for a pretty simple job — make sure the six eastside papers are producing up-to-date, relevant local news no matter if it’s Hermiston, John Day, Enterprise or Pendleton.
My job here in Wallowa County is also pretty simple — guide a small, but talented, veteran reporting team, work with a standout general manager in Jennifer Cooney and give the readers and advertisers a product that informs, enlightens and inspires.
The move is a good one for a number of reasons — mainly it frees up Ellen from the mundane tasks on the backend of writing stories and allows her to do what she does best — produce good, compelling content on a full-time basis.
Meanwhile, I have taken those editor tasks — making assignments, editing stories and coordinating the presentation of the paper — and will work to build upon an already strong foundation. And while I will not have an everyday presence in Wallowa County, Jennifer will continue to spend her time in the local business community where now, more than ever, advertising is important to the health of our reopening.
This reshuffling doesn’t mean EO Media Group has wavered in its commitment to the residents and businesses in Wallowa County. Quite the opposite, in fact. The benefit of a family-owned communications company is that we can share talent — and news of regional interest — from other Eastern Oregon newspapers and the Capital Press, while Bill and Ellen focus on information most important to Wallowa County readers. If you have a story idea or something you’d like to share, feel free to contact me at email@example.com or call me at 541-278-2673.
There is no great secret to producing a great newspaper. It takes hard work. A laser-like focus and a determination to always keep the reader at the forefront of everything we do. The reader — the subscriber in Troy, Enterprise, Imnaha or Lostine and all points in between — is part of a sacred covenant with the newspaper. That pact is reinforced every week with solid news coverage and a willingness to take on tough projects regarding accountability journalism.
I have a lot of respect for the history and tradition of the Wallowa County Chieftain. It is a good paper that is only going to get better. The staff is excellent, and I am honored that I will be working with such a great crew. I’m lucky that I was granted a great opportunity to be part of this newspaper.
It’s something I won’t take for granted.