In an era marked by corporate ownership of newspapers, The Columbian has remained family owned and operated for nearly a century.
In 1921, Herbert Campbell bought the paper. Today, his great-grandsons can be spotted in The Columbian’s offices.
This year, as the paper turns 125 years old, the Campbells — Scott, Jody, Ben, Will and Ross — have started to discuss the roles the fourth generation will play.
“We had our first-ever family (business) meeting recently,” Publisher Scott Campbell said, “and I’m really inspired.”
In 1962, the clacking of typewriters filled The Columbian’s newsroom and two brothers — Herbert J. Campbell’s sons — ran Vancouver’s newspaper.
Jack R. Campbell, a man described as believing “in a quality newspaper with the human touch,” handled the news side of The Columbian. Don P. Campbell, who played an influential role shaping the city of Vancouver, oversaw the business side, and worked to turn the nearly bankrupt publication into a “good, strong newspaper” and did it “without hurting anybody,” according to The Columbian archives.
The two brothers worked side-by-side for 17 years, respecting the division of labor and each other. They were a team until Jack Campbell died of a heart attack in 1978.
“They got along famously,” said retired Metro Editor Gregg Herrington, who worked for the paper from 1975 to 2008.
It’s a relationship that looms large in The Columbian’s history.
At the recent Campbell family business retreat, Ben and Will, the two oldest sons, spoke of the relationship their grandfather and great-uncle cultivated.
“Everyone knows that setup worked then,” Ben Campbell said. “And we talked about if it could work today.”
When Scott Campbell took over as publisher of The Columbian from his father, Don, at the age of 31, a reporter called him wanting an interview.
“He said, ‘You’re probably the youngest publisher in the country for a midsized daily newspaper,’ ” Campbell said. “I said to him, ‘I appreciate that, but why don’t you call me in a few years. Let’s see how all this turns out.’ ”
Scott Campbell grew up at The Columbian; he spent his summers and school breaks working in various departments. Later, he studied journalism at the University of Oregon and interned at the Sacramento Union and The Washington Post, which included a memorable lunch with the late publisher, Katharine Graham.
In 1987, he took over as publisher.
Under his tenure, the paper became a daily publication, moved to morning delivery and launched a website and social media efforts.
The civic-minded publisher also prioritized making The Columbian a good community partner. Early on, he advocated redeveloping Vancouver’s waterfront for public enjoyment. Later, a downtown land deal he signed led to redevelopment of several dilapidated structures into the Hilton Vancouver Washington, the attached convention center, and the office building that now houses Vancouver City Hall.
Jody Campbell, Scott’s wife, started working at The Columbian when she was 21 years old. The couple married in 1984.
Today Jody Campbell is co-owner, sits on the editorial board and is the community partnerships director. Together, the Campbells have prioritized giving back to the community.
Jody Campbell helped spearhead the philanthropic effort known as Pink Power, which raised millions to build the Kearney Breast Care Center at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.
“I love building relationships with community partners,” Jody Campbell said. “It’s an important role for us. We’re proud to be part of this community and as a family, I want to continue to do that.”
At 27 years old, Ben Campbell is only four years shy of the age his father was when he took over at The Columbian.
From an early age, he was interested in the industry.
“I grew up idolizing my dad and seeing how much fun he had coming to work,” Ben Campbell said.
The eldest Campbell son appears poised to ensure the newspaper remains under family control for the next generation, a task he’s excited about.
He’s worked at The Columbian for the past four years, and in that time launched Sprout Digital, a new division of the company focusing on website design and search engine optimization.
Jody and Scott Campbell said they encouraged their children to follow their passions, even if that doesn’t include the newspaper industry.
“I gave them good exposure to the place and (let) their interest develop sincerely inside themselves,” Scott Campbell said, adding he told them, “Don’t just jump into this because it’s here, because it’s in front of you, do it because you have a passion.”
Will Campbell, 24, who recently finished an internship in The Columbian’s newsroom, said he’s interested in the news side of the business. He’s well-versed in video production and is planning to study journalism at the University of Oregon.
“The newsroom is the most exciting place to me,” Will Campbell said.
Ross Campbell, 22, is a student at Washington State University in Pullman, studying sports management. All three sons are stockholders in the company.
Ross said he’s proud to be part of an organization that has played such an important role in the community for so many years.
“As of right now, the family is looking for ways to incorporate both Will and I to get more involved with the newspaper, which is very exciting for us,” he said.
Ben Campbell said he hopes someday if all three brothers are interested, they are all involved.
“I’m optimistic about the future,” Ben Campbell said. “I’m excited to test out new ways to deliver local news to the community.”