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Thursday, June 1, 2023
June 1, 2023

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From the Newsroom: We’re in an unusual situation

By , Columbian Editor

It is only Jan. 21, but already we have welcomed two new reporters to the metro news team this year, allowing us to resurrect an important beat that we had to let lapse a few years ago. It’s an unusual but welcome, situation.

Our first new reporter is Mia Ryder-Marks, whose first story, an update on the downtown Safe Stay community, appeared online and in print on Wednesday. Mia joins Kelsey Turner in writing about issues surrounding homelessness and affordable housing. These have been top issues in our community for several years running, and deserve the spotlight.

The salaries of these two reporters are paid from our Community Funded Journalism program, with major donors including the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund, plus smaller community donors. This community funded journalism initiative has been a real boon to us, allowing us to add four reporting positions to our newsroom since last summer.

CFJ donations are also backing our new environmental reporter, Lauren Ellenbecker, who slides over from the Vancouver city government beat. One of Lauren’s first stories on the new beat looked at various bills that would ban commercial gillnetting of salmon in the Columbia River, and the limitations on their effectiveness unless Oregon follows suit.

Taking Lauren’s city/federal government beat is Carlos Fuentes. Carlos joined us on Tuesday, and his first assignment was covering new Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez’s first town hall meeting. Perez, a Democrat, is already proving to have a different style than her predecessor, Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler. It will be interesting to see how Perez’s visibility will shape her media coverage.

Our ability to add reporters is counter-trend. An article this week in the trade publication MediaPost cites a Georgetown University study that says newspaper employment fell 63 percent between the 1990s and the 2010s. That’s a loss of nearly 160,000 jobs. And the job loss continues. This month, the Mail-Tribune daily newspaper in Medford, Ore., closed permanently.

Diminished advertising revenue is to blame for nearly all of the loss. Retail and classified ads used to be the newspaper industry’s bread and butter, but online shopping and sites like craigslist have decimated print advertising.

Subscriptions are now the most important source of money for newspapers. Digital circulation is growing, even as the industry sees fewer and fewer print subscribers every year. If you count all of our digital platforms, some of which are free, we reach more people now than ever. We need these people to become digital subscribers. So it’s great to have some new reporters on the beat to give us more to offer.

Mail delivery

My wife and I recently visited friends who live in a rural area east of Everett. They’re longtime home delivery subscribers to The Seattle Times and The Herald of Everett. But when I saw their newspapers, I noticed they had mailing labels.

Our friends are experiencing the latest newspaper trend: mail delivery, particularly in rural areas. We’re doing it on a limited basis at The Columbian too, as the pool of people willing to take newspaper routes has evaporated.

Being a newspaper carrier is hard work. You get up before daylight and work (in our case, six) days a week. You have to drive and maintain your own vehicle. Gas is expensive. Regular jobs are plentiful. And if you enjoy doing contract delivery as a side hustle, outfits like DoorDash and Grubhub let you pick your hours.

We are doing our best to maintain carrier delivery. But in cases where that’s impossible, we are turning to the mail, which provides reliable, if not optimal, service.