Irrigated crops can be often be seen on one side of the road in the Klamath Basin’s wildlife refuges with open water or wetlands on the other side.

Irrigated crops can be often be seen on one side of the road in the Klamath Basin’s wildlife refuges with open water or wetlands on the other side. Stories about drought, agriculture and related topics are central to Herald and News coverage.

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The Herald and News is the only local newspaper in Klamath Falls. The paper has been struggling, like many local papers, to cover the community and local issues and adequately support its news staff. Recently the Herald and News lost its editor, Tim Trainor, and all of its reporters. Trainor says he and the other reporters made their decisions independently, that it wasn’t a mass walkout, but in his view, it had everything to do with inadequate support for news staff. The publisher has said Herald and News continues to put out the paper with an interim editor and freelancers. We talk with Trainor about Klamath Basin news coverage, specifically, and the larger industry challenges of covering local communities on a shoestring.

Editor’s note: Publisher Mark Dobie had agreed to be part of the on-air discussion as well, but canceled an hour before broadcast, after being told not to participate by the owners of the paper, Adams Publishing Group. The text of the copy has been modified to reflect this change.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud, I’m Dave Miller. One editor and three reporters at the Klamath Falls Herald and News all left their positions recently. They didn’t all resign on the same day, but the result is basically the same. The only newspaper in Klamath Falls lost its reporting team. So what does this mean for the paper going forward, and what does it say more broadly about the future of newspapers in smaller markets? Tim Trainor is one of the people who left. He was the editor of the Herald and News. He’s now the news editor at the Redmond Spokesman. He joins us now.

I should add that Mark Dobie had agreed to come onto the show as well. He is the publisher of the Herald and News, and he also runs newspapers in Lakeview and in Bozeman, Montana for the same publishing company. Dobie called us up about an hour ago to say that his bosses, the Adams Publishing Group, had told him not to join us. But Tim Trainor, welcome back to the show.

Tim Trainor: Yeah, thanks for having me. Nice to be here.

Miller: You were at the Herald and News for about a year and a half. Can you give us a sense for the big stories that you and your team covered in that time?

Trainor: Yeah, sure. It’s a great news town, which is kind of the reason why I took that job. We’ve had two of the biggest wildfires in Oregon history, one at one time was the largest in the nation. There’s been an ongoing drought that is causing significant strain to farmers and fish and numerous species. The largest dam removal in American history is scheduled, planned to go forward this year, and really start deconstruction next year. And then of course COVID that hung over everything, and affected local life. So lots of big issues.

Miller: It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that between the fires and the water issues, and then everything else affecting everybody, that you’ve been at the center of some of the highest profile issues affecting Oregon and the West. Has that translated to readership?

Trainor: Yeah, it has. We have had an increase in readership over that time. We brought in some new staff right as I arrived, and we attacked it in a different way, and we definitely saw more readership. It is a digital first kind of operation. We definitely saw increases in people caring about Klamath issues and following our reporting.

Miller: In social media, what happened there with the three reporters and you all leaving, it was sort of portrayed as a mass resignation. Is that a fair way to put it?

Trainor: Not really. I decided to resign. It was my decision. I just had better opportunities, and I wasn’t sure about the way forward with me there at the paper. And after I had made that decision, I told the reporters of that, I knew it would be difficult for them. And so after they heard that I was leaving, they wanted to meet with management and try to figure out what the plan was going forward. And after that meeting, they all decided to resign as well. So we all left within two days of one another. But it wasn’t a coordinated effort or anything like that. I made the decision to go, and I think the reporters were worried that they were not gonna be able to succeed without an editor in that spot.

Miller: What did you hear from them about what they were specifically worried about?

Trainor: We were already kind of a skeleton staff as you mentioned there. We had a sports reporter, a news reporter, and a photojournalist. So we were already stretched pretty thin. And without an editor to do all the little things that you need to, you’re still putting out four papers a week. I think they worried they’d have to have to do a lot more work and not not see any additional pay for that. So I think they were worried that it would just be more difficult for them to do their jobs.

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Miller: How much of this does boil down to pay in your mind?

Trainor: I don’t think it’s completely about that. I think you know reporters knew what the salary was when they came here. But also, I knew that we needed to increase our budget for our newsroom there, and we reached out and were pretty successful. We raised over $100,000 for newsroom salaries through Report for America, through grants from MIT, and from Microsoft.

Miller: Can you explain what Report for America is? Because this I’m not mistaken, this provided funding for two of the three positions that we’re talking about, right?

Trainor: Yeah it’s a really cool new program. It pays half the salary of some really talented reporters, and they kind of send them into newsrooms where they’re most needed, under-resourced newsrooms. It’s a highly difficult thing to apply for and get. The Herald and News, with all those big issues right in our backyards, were kind of top of the list. We brought on Alex Schwartz kind of right at the same time I arrived there to follow water and environment and climate issues. Then we also added Arden Barnes, a photographer last year as well. Half their salary was paid from RFA, and it really helped us to expand our newsroom and brought in people of caliber I don’t think we would have recruited without the help of RFA.

Miller: What has it been like to try to recruit people to come to the paper?

Trainor: It’s been really hard. We have lost a few reporters. It’s very difficult to get folks. We’ve got few applications, and even fewer applicants who we thought would really succeed at the gig. So it’s really tough. And I think part of that is pay, but it’s also the life of a small town reporter. It’s a high stress kind of environment, and it’s not for everybody.

Miller: So given that it was already a challenge to hire reporters there in recent years, what do you think it’ll take for the Herald and News to fill all of its open positions right now?

Trainor: Yeah, I mean, I really do think it’ll be hard, and especially it would be hard for a reporter to get on there without an editor, and hard for an editor to take that job without some reporters. I think that the paper wants to remain a growing concern, and bring some staff in there to do the work. But yeah, I think it’ll be really difficult for them. Klamath needs good journalism, I hope they can get folks in to do great work. But I think it will be hard.

Miller: I noted that Mark Dobie, the publisher of the paper, had agreed to come on, and then we got late word that his bosses at the Adams Publishing Group didn’t want him to come on. But he had argued that this Minnesota based company, which is privately held in family hands, that they’re more focused on the mission of journalism than publicly traded media conglomerates might be. I’m curious if you feel like you’ve seen evidence of that? In other words, it could be even worse if we had shareholders to respond to.

Trainor: I mean, I guess so. They may be more well informed about that. But from our perspective, we felt like we were increasing our resources, and just couldn’t see that reinvestment back in the newsroom. So we were bringing in some of those funds, and I felt like we were seeing some good growth, but we’re just kind of struggling too, both from the corporate perspective, but just from a recruitment perspective we were just having a hard time. Just covering the basics that we need to do to put out four papers a week and do a good job.

Miller: How much do you think this is a story about one particular paper with its own specific circumstances, and how much is this one more story in the ongoing saga of the decline of print in this country?

Trainor: Yeah, I think it’s a little bit of both, for sure. I think the odds are stacked a little against us a little bit more in Klamath. But yeah, in general rural print based newspapers are struggling, and I think newsrooms in general, small newsrooms especially, are trying to figure out ways to be self-sufficient, and I think we can do that if we reduce the costs of delivery and printing, and then increase our philanthropic efforts, if we increase our digital subscribers.

But all that comes with doing good journalism, and that’s both high quality journalism about drought and extinction and climate, and also just the basics that are part of every good small local newspaper, the community calendar, the new restaurant down the street, the high school basketball scores. I think both of those are really important to succeed as a small newsroom. And I think a lot of places are thinking about it differently and trying to kind of make that transition. It will be bumpy for sure. But there’s good ideas out there, and I think there’s a good future for folks who do good work, that they can kind of bring in some financial support to continue it.

Miller: What lessons do you think you’re most going to take from the Herald and News as you’re thinking about your new job?

Trainor: Yeah, it definitely was a great learning opportunity for all of our staff. I think the key for us, at least that I’ve learned, is that we’re gonna have to work hard, we’re gonna have to find community support wherever we can, and we’re gonna have to try to find ways to pay our own salaries. If that’s having a handout to our readers, and also to big philanthropic efforts or corporations, we want to do our best to be self-sufficient and be able to do the work we want to do.

Miller: It does sound like that’s one more job to add to your job description. In the past, I guess I haven’t thought of it being up to reporters and editors to figure out ways to pay their salaries. I would have thought that would be up to the bean counters, the business people. But you’re saying to make it work, you need to do that as well?

Trainor: Yeah, I think that should be the editor’s job. It’s not just the newsroom that’s small at Klamath Falls, it’s a small organization. And I think the editor, part of their gig should be trying to figure out ways to increase their newsroom staff, and keep them happy, and keep them being able to afford housing and gasoline prices and stuff. So yeah, I consider that part of my job, and I think it should be part of every newsroom, not just making good journalism, but figuring out how to pay for itself.

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