EDITORIAL: Final notes, Thanks for a great 18 years

By Scott Swanson
Of The New Era, Lebanon Local

I’ve not looked forward to writing this column, but the time has come.

It’s my “sayonara” – goodbye as publisher of your community newspaper.

Hard to believe it’s been over 18 years since my wife Miriam and our three daughters walked into The New Era’s offices on April 1, 2005, to be introduced as the new owners of the newspaper. That time has flown – fast.

Miriam and I weren’t necessarily looking to leave – the business, that is, anytime soon.

But we have realized that we aren’t the young sprouts we were when we took over from Alex and Debbie Paul, who’d owned The New Era for the previous 20 years. Responsible journalism requires a level of attention to detail and a level of energy that gets more difficult as your reflexes slow down. I’ve noticed that the typos come more easily, the mental lapses more common. (“What’s this person’s name? I know it…)

We knew we were going to have to come up with an exit strategy and we didn’t want it to be a corporate newspaper chain, at least not a chain owned by investors who care only about money.

Though an owner certainly has to be concerned about profit, I think I can say fairly confidently that newspapers run by people for whom that is their sole concern are the ones circling the drain. Owners who are unwilling to invest in their news product are serving themselves, not their community, and it’s no wonder they’re losing subscribers and advertisers.

So, when our time came to step back, we wanted to find an owner who cared deeply about and understood the critical importance of local journalism, and who would care about Sweet Home.

Out of the blue, we were approached by Chris Chapman, who asked us if we’d be willing to sell the newspaper operation, which now includes our monthly in Lebanon, to him.

We’ve known Chris since 2005, when he first came to work with us. In fact, he’s worked for us twice in the past (our staff likes to joke that The New Era is like Hotel California in the Eagles song: “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave,” because of the number of employees who return.)

Although Chris is not an editorial-side guy like me, he has extensive experience – he’s worked for three different commercial newspaper operations, and he shares our interest in maintaining a healthy, reliable local news source. Given those considerations, and our own experience with Chris, we had a hard time coming up with a better scenario for The New Era’s continued healthy survival.

Also, even when Chris was a youngster just learning the ropes in his early days with us, I always noticed how he had a good moral compass and he was a leader in the newsroom. Though I certainly didn’t envision him taking over The New Era in those early days, I thought I saw the potential for such a role.

So here we are. Obviously, we decided to go for it.

We’re not intending to go anywhere and we’ll likely be involved at some level in The New Era for some time to come, at least until all the pieces are in place to take it and Lebanon Local to even bigger and better things, which is the goal.

We’re very appreciative for the support Sweet Home has given us as we’ve operated The New Era. Sure, there are a lot of people (some of them somewhat surprising to me) who don’t read the paper, but a constant stream of subscribers over the years have told us they appreciate it. And we appreciate them.

We appreciate the advertisers who have chosen to promote themselves and their services alongside our news coverage. We appreciate local residents who have chosen to let us help tell their stories, promote their events and chronicle their highlights.

I’ve learned a lot as editor and co-publisher (with Miriam) of your newspaper. Working in a small, rural community wasn’t new to me, but running the business while reporting the news proved a delicate balance.

I’ve realized how important it was to support local businesses, even those that haven’t supported The New Era.

I’ve come to understand that the only reason that a local store is open on Saturday morning for customers like me is because we are willing to support it. It takes at least two days to get anything from Amazon, and when you need lumber, feed, a birthday card, a bouquet, etc., etc., immediately, well, what goes around comes around.

Another thing I’ve learned, running your newspaper, is that in a small community like Sweet Home individual people make a big difference. That’s true everywhere, but it’s particularly so when we don’t have masses of people to draw from for talent.

I can think of a long list of individuals who have made big differences in the community with their energy, vision and creativity. They aren’t always appreciated – sometimes they can rub people the wrong way, but they get things done. And we all benefit from that. Notice I haven’t named any of them because I would certainly leave someone out who should be mentioned. Make your own list.

I’ve realized the importance of schools as a means of drawing the community together, establishing identity. Sports, in particular, are not only good for kids – their success is something we can all take pleasure in, but there are a lot of other ways schools contribute.

I recall Cyndi Rinehart, who retired a few weeks ago after 45 years at Crawfordsville and Holley schools, telling me how the school was the glue that held the Crawfordsville community together for the 33 years she worked there. I get it.

In today’s world, especially, where we huddle over our personal devices when we’re not working (maybe we’re huddling over them there as well), we just don’t get out much. School activities, particularly in Sweet Home, remain vital to community life – sports, concerts, carnivals, etc.

I’ve gotten to know Sweet Home pretty well, even though I’m not a native. I’ve been encouraged by the increased energy, particularly in the last couple of years, as the community has grown and younger people have begun buying businesses and launching new ones.

I’ve told people that even though I’ve hoped my generation could take some sizable steps toward new directions for our community, and I was part of efforts to get there, it looks like the younger folks are really making it happen. I wish them great success.

People regularly ask me how The New Era (and the Lebanon Local, down the road) are doing. The answer is that we’ve managed to stay profitable (see above) and we’ve enjoyed solid support from much of the community, which I have appreciated immensely. They care, and I love that, because without a local newspaper your community is subject to all sorts of potential problems.

Since I’m no longer the publisher, I can state that truth without sounding self-serving. Unless you want to sit through or watch your local city council/school board/fire board in action, who’s going to do it for you if you don’t have a newspaper reporter? Who’s going to look into problems that are arising in the community?

As many across America are learning, keeping your local paper alive – whether in print or online – is vital to the community’s well being. And making that happen is on you, the community – the residents, the businesses, the officials.

Newspapers face a lot of challenges now that we didn’t even see coming back in 2005, though things weren’t good then. We’ve essentially lost the classified ads to the Web and social media; we no longer have the full-page grocery ads of a few decades ago – in fact, increasingly, we’re not even getting the circulars that stores once used to advertise themselves.

They want to save money by making you visit them online.

The failure (for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into here) of newspapers in some Oregon communities forced the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association this year to battle to keep the legal notices, which your local government agencies are required to publish to alert you of hearings and budget proposals, etc.

Through the efforts of publishers and committed legislators, who realized the value of having those published by newspapers and the folly of having agencies post them on their own websites – which has been a constant threat, that loss of revenue was averted in the just-completed legislative session. But those kinds of threats are constant these days.

It’s harder to report now – public agencies routinely refuse to give us information that used to be pretty much automatic. People – even public agencies – more often don’t alert us about the events they’re planning. I guess they assume we’ll find it on Facebook.

We actually have staffers who we pay now to search for events posted on social media that we should cover or help publicize. People forget that not everyone is their Facebook friend. (That’s been a real peeve of mine in recent years, particularly since COVID-19.) All it takes is an email, folks. Phone calls are welcome.

So it’s time for Miriam and me to step back, to let the younger generation take over. We have grandkids now, and there are a lot of things I’ve never had time for, running a newspaper that essentially requires 24/7 attention.

Last, but certainly not least, big thanks to all our staffers (including all those returnees), who have really made it happen for you.

I expect Chris and his team will do a very good job of keeping your local newspaper telling you what’s happening.

Please remember to support The New Era. We’ve appreciated the opportunity to serve you.