Most of you don’t follow journalism industry news as closely as we do, so while you may be generally aware of how newspapers are doing, you may not be especially familiar with the particulars. I track the newspaper business pretty closely, as you might expect, and much of the news about the news is depressing.
Hundreds of newspapers around the country — mostly smaller but a few from sizable urban areas — have closed, been swallowed up in mergers or purchased by a faraway corporate entity that strips local resources to the bare minimum. Large swaths of the country are without any newspaper presence at all.
Washington state’s weekly newspaper industry has seen papers come and go — mostly go — but remains relatively stable, thanks to ownership groups or individuals that continue to believe in, and invest in, their communities’ allegiance to their publications.
Okanogan County is served by four weekly newspapers:
• The Okanogan Valley Gazette Tribune in Oroville is owned by Sound Publishing. Founded as a Washington company in 1987, when the British Columbia-based parent company began buying newspapers in Washington, Sound Publishing is now the largest community news organization in the state. The Gazette Tribune is the only Sound property east of the Cascades.
• The Quad City Herald is owned by NCW Media Newspapers, which also owns the Leavenworth Echo, the Cashmere Valley Record, the Lake Chelan Mirror and the Wenatchee Business Journal.
• The little old Methow Valley News is owned solely by yours truly, and has been independently operated for 116 years.
Which brings us to the most-interesting recent development in Okanogan County publishing — the sale of the Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle, the largest-circulation paper among the four, which has been under new ownership for a few weeks now.
The Chronicle had been owned since 1996 by Oregon-based Eagle Newspapers. It has been purchased by J. Louie Mullen and his father Tom Mullen — and this is, I believe, good news for the Chronicle if it had to change hands.
The Mullens are a newspaper family. Louie Mullen owns 10 papers ranging from Michigan to Oregon including the Newport Miner in northeast Washington. His brother Lloyd is owner and publisher of the Port Townsend Leader, and father Tom owns the Shelton Mason County Journal. All are, in my estimation, excellent community papers. They regularly show up among the top award winners in the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association’s (WNPA) Better Newspaper Contest.
The Chronicle has been a healthy presence in the county under Eagle’s ownership. Knowing the Mullen family’s passion for strong community journalism, I think we can expect the paper to enthusiastically embrace its market.
The weekly newspaper owners in Washington know each other pretty well, even though we’re scattered all over the state. The Methow Valley News has joined in a partnership with the Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune to publish the county’s legal notices. I know the Mullens from my time as president of the WNPA, when Tom Mullen was on the WNPA board of directors. Bill Forhan of NCW Media was a previous WNPA president. All of our newspapers are printed by the Wenatchee World. While in some cases we are competitive or our circulation areas overlap, I think we all wish each other well in a demanding environment, and will help each other out if we can.
I often get asked how we are doing at the Methow Valley News, and my answer is usually offered in broad strokes: We’ve struggled at times but are doing OK, while not taking anything for granted. And, smaller community-grounded newspapers are generally faring better than their big-city cohorts. In our corner of the state, I consider it a good sign that the Mullens see the Chronicle as a promising investment.
About those bylines
Some news about our contributors: As most of you know, our Mazama columnist for the Valley Life page, Erika Kar, is off to Mexico for a year with her family. We’re looking for someone to fill in during that time. Let me know if you’d like to be considered. Reach me at email@example.com.
And, our fall sports coverage of Liberty Bell High School athletics will be enhanced by the addition of Ranger Rick Lewis, who, in addition to duties overseeing three state parks including Pearrygin Lake, is involved in the Liberty Bell Booster Club and is the announcer for Mountain Lion football games. He will be covering cross-country for us in the coming months. Our newest reporter, Ralph Schwartz, takes over coverage of volleyball with some actual knowledge of the sport, having watched his daughters play. Football and girls’ soccer are still stuck with me.