Beginning Monday, June 4, the La Grande Observer will cut its publication frequency from five days a week to three. In an editorial, Publisher Kari Borgen assured readers the paper will remain a daily news organization -- by providing daily coverage of breaking news on its website.
The move represents a trend playing out across the newspaper industry.
Every afternoon Tim Seydel reads through the La Grande Observer.
He’s Vice President for Admissions and Advancement at Eastern Oregon University. So it’s kind of part of his job to know what’s going on. But he says his love for the paper and all it represents goes back to his grade school days when would ride his bike along La Grande’s west side in his job as an Observer paperboy.
"That was probably the biggest thing I learned was that the newspaper had to go out. And it didn’t matter what the weather was. If it was sunny that was super. But if it was blowing snow and 30 degrees outside or less, maybe 5 degrees, I still had to deliver that newspaper," Seydel remembers.
But despite the efforts of the young Seydel and the countless paperboys that came before and after, the paper won’t go out on Tuesday.
According to its website, The La Grande Observer serves 14,000 readers in Union and Wallowa counties. The Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association says the paper's circulation is about 5200.
The newspaper's publisher, Kari Borgen, didn’t respond to a request for an interview.
Neither did representatives at the paper’s parent company, Western Communications, which emerged from bankruptcy protection in April.
In her editorial, Borgen writes that the move will not reduce the newspaper's ability to produce local content.
Instead, Tuesday's stories will be printed on Wednesday. They’ll also go on the Observer’s website.
Seydel says he accepts the change, even if it does make him a bit nostalgic.
"I will miss it. I’ll still be looking at the every-other-day paper coming three days a week, but then also probably spend a little bit more time looking at their website."
But that approach does carry risk, says Steven A. Smith. During his 40 years in the newspaper business, Smith served as senior editor at three papers including the Statesman-Journal in Salem. He now teaches at the School of Journalism and Mass Media at the University of Idaho.
He says for longtime subscribers, getting the newspaper is like a habit.
"When you start taking the paper away from them, you start chipping away at that habit. For the long haul, that’s less a concern. But in the short and mid-term, that print newspaper is still your primary revenue generator," Smith says.
Still he’s careful not to criticize the decision - in fact, he suggests it might be the only option the paper has left. Smith says for years papers have been battling a tsunami of social, technological, and economic shifts that have upended the very foundation of the business.
Publishers responded with a series of progressive cuts -- first came cuts to staff -- then cuts to the actual size of the page the paper’s printed on.
"Just about all that’s left now is the days you publish a print newspaper."
Smith says what is a bit surprising is that for the most part smaller community newspapers, like the Observer, have weathered industry changes better than newspapers in larger markets.
"So when you see what’s happening in La Grande, that tells you that this reduction in days of publication option is viable at all levels of the newspaper industry. I think we’re going to see a lot of newspapers doing this over the course of the next year."
Smith says there have probably been about a dozen news organizations around the county that have taken this same step in the last few months.
The most notable is The Times Picayune out of New Orleans. That paper won the Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.