Four years ago, as the number of reporters covering statehouses continued shrinking, two news organizations started working together to cover state government in Oregon.
Now, they’re adding a third.
The Salem Reporter, which launched online in September, joins Pamplin Media Group and EO Media Group. Pamplin publishes the Portland Tribune and 24 other newspapers and EO publishes the East Oregonian and 10 other newspapers. Together, they're forming the Oregon Capital Bureau. Les Zaitz, editor of Salem Reporter and the Malheur Enterprise and a longtime investigative reporter in the state, will manage the team.
After watching collaborations around the country, Zaitz said, he recognized the power of working together for newsrooms with limited resources. It’s what led the two publishers to start working together in the first place, said Mark Garber, president of Pamplin Media Group.
“We can do a lot more together than if we were trying to compete with each other to try to provide the same in-depth coverage and get people to pay for the service or sponsor the service,” he said.
The collaboration adds a third reporter to the team. For Zaitz, it gives his brand new newsroom access to a statewide audience. For the other newsrooms, he said, it adds metabolism to what they’re already doing and the chance to get even more aggressive with what they’re covering.
Oregon Capital Bureau will offer its work for free to newsrooms that don’t compete with the three news organizations, said Joseph Beach, editor and publisher of the Capital Press of EO Media. The collaboration's weekly newsletter, Oregon Capital Insider, has more than 84,000 subscribers, according to the Salem Reporter.
When the collaboration first started four years ago, the Pew Research Center reported that statehouse reporters across the country had dropped by 35 percent in the previous decade. In August, Anna Marum reported for CJR that statehouse coverage in Salem had dropped to just 13 reporters in 2018, from a high of 27 in 2005.
“I think the more bodies you have, the more bandwidth you have and that’s good,” Beach said. “We’re gonna have three people out on the beat and that can only be good, even if, and especially if, other organizations decide to ramp up their coverage in response to that. That would be good for everyone, too.”
The team will focus on enterprise, Zaitz said, and work that makes an impact. And it will build on lessons the two news organizations that pioneered this already figured out, including streamlining how stories are submitted to cut down on duplication. Another of those, Garber said, is giving the bureau space to chase down its own work instead of phoning in requests.
But the collaboration doesn’t mean an end to competition.
For Zaitz, who did two reporting stints at Oregon’s state capital and remembers when the number of reporters in Salem was much higher, “that competitive streak is still there,” he said. “Frankly, this allows me to press that competitive edge by marshaling more resources to talk to more people to find more stories.”