April 8, 2013

The Oregonian, a publication older than the state it serves, announced in late March that it’s created a new publication called the Beaverton Leader to cover news for the town that’s home to Nike. Apparently it missed the industry memo to stop the presses and get out of the print business.

“Our idea is that part of a successful [newspaper] strategy has to include effective community-level journalism and advertising,” said Peter Bhatia, The Oregonian’s editor, in a phone call with Poynter.

The Leader isn’t The Oregonian’s first town-specific newspaper. It also distributes the Hillsboro Argus and the Forest Grove Leader. Like the Forest Grove paper, Beaverton will be distributed for free, with an advertising insert, to most of the Beaverton community on Wednesdays, and will also be included with Beaverton residents’ Oregonian papers, if they’re subscribers.

While the Oregonian depends on paid subscriptions in addition to advertising revenue, its smaller papers like the Forest Grove Leader and Beaverton Leader will run on advertising revenues, independent of any funding from the Oregonian.

“The weeklies have to stand on their own,” said Bhatia. “We don’t go into these things if we don’t think they’re going to be successful.”

And the local paper strategy has proved successful for the Oregonian, from both revenue and editorial standpoints. They’re “a really effective way to be of service to those readers, and those advertisers,” Bhatia said. “We really rely on those local editors and their staff to make the calls that they need to make.”

The expansion to Beaverton indicates that the smaller-paper strategy has worked.

“The message is that that seems to be good business for them, and they’re expanding it,” said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for Poynter. “It’s probably an advertising strategy,” Edmonds said; if the Oregonian can use the Beaverton to boost circulation numbers, it can pitch a larger audience to advertisers. That helps sustain the Oregonian’s business model.

As the Oregonian continues to expand amid what Bhatia calls the “doom and gloom around newspapers,” he says there’s potential with leveraging advertising opportunities to expand coverage to local communities.

“We’re not sitting around waiting for the world to end,” he said. “I’m glad I’m part of a company that, while completely embracing and pushing aggressively into the digital space, is still willing to be aggressive where we see growth opportunities in … a more traditional space.”

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