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From The Archives: "The Future Of The Newspaper" 2011 Story On The Register-Guard

Tiffany Eckert


KLCC's Tiffany Eckert takes a regional look at the state of the newspaper job market and the evolution of the industry.

"Extra Extra, Read all about it!"
Once upon a time was the Golden Age of newspapers in America.

"Duffy get set! We got the biggest story in years! Exclusive! Yea! And, I want you tear out the whole front page. That's what I said, the whole front page-out!"

It was a time when being a "news paper man" wasn't just a job - it was way of life.

Alton F. Baker senior moved to Eugene in 1927 and bought up The Morning Register, then The Eugene Daily Guard. He merged the two and created the newspaper nearly 60-thousand subscribers read today.

"Register-Guard, How may I direct your call?"

The Register-Guard is one of only a handful of family-owned newspapers left in the United States. Grandson David Baker is current managing editor.

David Baker: "We get a lot of people who come here from other places, obviously, many of them have worked for Gannett and for other chains. The feel is different at this newspaper."

Most daily papers are owned by media conglomerates - and Baker says without a local link, those papers are most vulnerable when economic times get tough.  Features reporter Randi Bjornstad started her job at the R-G in 1988 - prosperous times in the newspaper biz.  Now, her industry is struggling.

Randi Bjornstad: "One of my colleagues and I were counting and we are down to 14 reporters in the newsroom. And I think when I started here, we probably had 26."

Bjornstad says attrition in the newsroom puts pressure on reporters to produce stories everyday--that makes less time for in-depth reporting.

Bjornstad: "I do now what at least four people used to do.  My writing days are Monday and Tuesday, Health and Fitness comes out on Monday."

To get perspective on the changes at the Register-Guard, here's retired reporter Don Bishoff. He's "old guard."  He joined the newsroom in 1960.

Don Bishoff: "The managing editor once told me that there was no budget for the newsroom. In other words, that we could spend whatever it took to do the job we needed to do."  

Bishoff sits in his home office-in comfortable sandals.  His dog, Alice, roams outside the door. He remembers the days of early tech at the R-G.

Bishoff: "The first time we had computers in the newsroom, I tried interviewing somebody on the phone using the computer and the computer guys kept coming up to my desk--they were concerned that I was overloading the capacity."

In his 38 and a half years at the paper, Bishoff was a reporter, editor and finally landed on the opinion page.  He says that job was the best thing that ever happened to him. His decision to leave was difficult.

Bishoff: "I felt that, how do I put that... I felt that the paper had kind of turned on its employees and developed an anti-employee, anti-union attitude in all its dealings. And I think that's really unfortunate because the relationship between the family and the employees had been so good for so long."

Both these journalists say they understand the complex choices the Baker family faces.  Expenses are up for ink, paper, trucks, press parts - line items for the print product.  And Baker confirms newspaper advertising is at an all time low.  To fold or stay alive: that is the question.

Digital media looms large, especially for "20-somethings."  Print circulation is down but - Baker says, R-G readership is up because of the web and I-pad.

Baker: "Of course the 64-thousand dollar question for the newspaper industry: 'How do you make money doing all these things?'"

Media mogul Rupert Murdock thinks he can. Last week, he launched The Daily, digital news delivered exclusively to the I-pad.  Murdock's 30-million dollar investment will cost readers 99-cents a week.

It's U of O Journalism professor Mike Thoele's job to prepare young writers for a future they may not even envision yet.

Mike Thoele: "I think there will always be positions for the best. But, I think that they will not necessarily be positions in media as we know it."

Thoele worked for 23 years as reporter and editor at the Register-Guard.  For nine years, he and his wife published the Tri-County News in Junction City and the West Lane News in Veneta. They sold those small papers, but soon after--both went under.

Thoele: "The newspapers that we sold didn't have to die. The smaller the newspaper, the less it's impacted by what's going on in media because in small towns there aren't alternate sources for local news."

It's 11 pm in the press room at the Register-Guard building in west Eugene. Press operator Alberto Gil is responsible for getting this edition printed before dawn.  In ink-colored coveralls and earphones, he and three others check digital monitors and regularly grab up copies as they fly by.

Alberto Gil: "They'll look through the paper. Make sure the date lines are right, the page numbers are right and they'll see something, you know, yeah. Stop the presses."

How long will the presses roll at the Register-Guard? Dave Baker says his family's newspaper isn't going away any time soon.

Baker: "Who knows how long this is gonna be on people's porch. Could be 30 years, could be 10, could be 50. I don't know, but we'll make it work somehow."

Asking a newspaper man if he sees a future in his medium is kind of like asking the Pope if he believes in God. It's a matter of faith.

For KLCC news, I'm Tiffany Eckert.

(audio from His Girl Friday, 1940) "I'm no suburban bridge player---I'm a newspaper man."

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and worked in a variety of media including television, technical writing, photography and daily print news before moving to the Pacific Northwest.
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