Chas Hundley’s family first settled in the unincorporated town of Gales Creek, Oregon, (pop. less than 600) in 1883. A fifth-generation resident of Gales Creek, the 22-year-old grew up in the foothills of the Coast Range, where he still lives today.
When Hundley was a teenager, Gales Creek hit some hard times. It lost its post office and its tavern and its elementary school all within the span of about a year. So Hundley did what anyone would do who wanted to save his town: he started a news website.
The Gales Creek Journal — which covers Gales Creek, Glenwood, and Hillside — is now four years old, and expanding into a print newspaper, which will publish once a month. Hundley — who also recently launched a second news publication for the neighboring city of Banks and other incorporated communities — serves as the publication’s writer, photographer, editor, web designer, publisher and business analyst.
That’s right, a 22-year-old is single-handedly running two local news publications and now also turning them into a print product. In November, he plans to leave his full-time day job in tech to focus entirely on journalism. We chatted about his plans for his publications, and why he’s gung-ho on print, local journalism, and staying in a small town.
There’s a Facebook group called What’s your Plan B for journalists who want to pursue other careers. You’re 22 with a full-time day job in tech, and you’re leaving your job to focus full-time on journalism. I should start with an obvious question: What are you thinking?
It’s scary, but I’ve been doing journalism off and on part time for four years now. I’ve also been doing other things like marketing and other tech industry stuff in the same time period. But the truth is: I just really love journalism and the whole industry, and while tech is more stable and the pay is much better, it’s not for me.
I’m looking at the financial side of things and I’m a little nervous. But I don’t think I’m going to have regrets.
I just got married and moved and things are a little more stable for me personally. I’ve been kicking this around for a while, and I recently sat down and ran the numbers and talked to other local journalists who are running other independent papers, and I realized it was feasible. As the idea solidified, I realized if I could do it, I should do it, so I’m going to do it.
Tell me more about Gales Creek and the stories that resonate in your community.
Gales Creek is an unincorporated community near the Coast Range of Oregon and traditionally has had an agricultural and logging based economy. It’s really, really small. The only government census lumped us in with a community that’s close, technically, but separated from us by a mountain.
The population is well under 1,000 in the region. The stories that resonate are local public interest stories. Those are stories about local businesses, or things that are happening with our school. And a lot of people want to know what’s going on with the road and fires, things that affect day-to-day living. There’s only one road in and out of Gales Creek, so when something happens to the road and blocks traffic, people want to know more about that. Those are the stories that people are reading a lot. And sometimes there’s a profile of someone in the community that resonates.
Did you grow up in Gales Creek?
I did. I live in the area and have for basically my entire life.
What about your staff?
I’m the only one on staff.
Oh. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to a one-person newspaper staff before. How do you manage to wear all of the hats?
I don’t sleep a lot. I’m very careful with my time and that’s partially why I want to do this full time. I’m very, very careful to make sure I’m spending my time exactly where it’s needed. I have a technical background so I know enough about web development to run the websites, write the articles, and get the articles online. I’m both running the journalism side and the business side.
I do have a couple of partnerships. There’s a local town 40 miles away (Tillamook) that has a county online-only publication. I partnered heavily with them. We shared a main highway so whenever the highway shuts down, we partnered on articles to get information on what happened whenever it was shut down. I also partner with a local sports broadcaster because I am bad at sports. He does online sports broadcasting for the local school district and so he goes and gets the information, and I point people to him.
You started your publication when you were 18. I don’t know many 18-year-olds who start news publications. How did this get off the ground?
I was loosely interested in journalism growing up. The first article I got published was when I was 14 in one of the local newspapers. But I never considered it seriously. When I did hit 18, in "downtown" Gales Creek — which I say with quote marks around downtown — we lost most of our businesses in 12 months. Our only grocery store shut down. The tavern shut down. Our post office shut down. No one knew what was going on and it fractured the community because our gathering places were shutting down.
I thought “What can I do to bring that sense of community back?” My older brother and I came up with two ideas: one was launching a Chamber of Commerce and one was launching a news publication. They’re both still going. When I started, I just did an article a week, sometimes less. It was little more than a glorified blog when it started. As time went on, I started talking to local residents and officials and the need for local journalism became more pressing and it just kind of grew from there.
A lot of 22-year-olds wouldn’t necessarily want to be in a small town. I’m curious: What has drawn you to stay?
I did move to the suburbs of Portland for two years and I hated it. I missed the clean air, and I like seeing stars at night. I know every single person here. When I lived in Portland, I missed driving down the road and waving at a neighbor or throwing vegetables on a porch.
At a time when many publications — the Village Voice most recently — are dropping or cutting back their print editions, you’re creating one. I’m curious about the rationale behind moving from digital to print?
The area I cover is about 300 square miles and there’s one incorporated city in that entire chunk of land. It’s an area with poor internet access, and an older population that doesn’t use the internet regularly. I started out digital but I realized that I’m not reaching everyone. I want to get the paper out to everyone that I can, so I think print’s the way to go.
I’m starting out with a monthly print edition — I’d love to do it more than that, but whether or not that’s possible remains to be seen. I think digital-only reaches a subset of the population I serve, so I think doing both is much better.
What’s your revenue model?
To an extent there will some growth in the area with the incorporated city of Banks, but that’s not going to have a huge impact. My revenue is based entirely on business advertisers and a few individual donors in the area who like what I’m doing. The paper is totally free to read online. The print edition will be mailed through a free circulation to everyone in the region. Ninety percent of the revenue will come from advertisers.
How will you know if you’re successful?
A good metric will be if I go bankrupt or not. I’m not doing this to become wealthy. There’s not a lot of money in this industry. I’ll probably be asking questions like: Is this paying for itself and is it paying me a halfway decent salary? If I’m more successful, that’s cool but it’s not the goal.