This afternoon I spent an enjoyable hour chatting with Troy Brynelson, one of the Salem Reporter's fresh journalistic faces in this town.
Troy got to the Beanery in downtown Salem before I did, and sent me a helpful email saying he was wearing a green shirt, but because I'd carefully studied the photo above, my keen senior citizen eyes were able to pick him out from the three or so people in the coffeehouse when I arrived.
Early on, I assessed Troy for possible mental illness after he told me that he has a journalism degree from the University of Oregon, noting that, given the declining fortunes of newspapers, if he'd been born a lot earlier, probably he would have gotten a degree in Buggy Whip Manufacturing shortly after the Model T became popular.
However, after Troy told me about his reporter experience in Roseburg and Vancouver, Washington, I realized that he's been getting paid for his writing, while I've earned precisely zero from fifteen years of blogging, and very little from the three books I've authored.
So if there was a crazy writer sitting in our Beanery booth, clearly it was me.
I came away impressed with Troy, who will be covering local government and businesses for the Salem Reporter, which begins online publication in September. He asked some good questions about goings-on in Salem, including how I'd define "progressive," a word I was throwing around pretty loosely.
Wasn't just about everybody in our town wanting progress? I had to admit that was true.
I also told Troy that in the case of the Third Bridge (or Salem River Crossing), which is one of the hottest ongoing topics facing the City Council, it is the "conservative" Chamber of Commerce that wants a billion dollar bridge to be built across the Willamette, while it is the "progressive" folks in Salem who want to fix up the two current bridges, along with their approaches.
After our talk I realized that I hadn't gotten any indication from Troy what his political leanings are, even though I'd expressed my own quite explicitly. This was a sign that Troy is going to be even-handed in his interviews and reporting, which is exactly what I'd expect from someone with his education and experience.
It's going to be interesting to see what sort of voice, or style, emerges in Salem Reporter stories.
I talked some about the challenges of print journalism, since by the time the Statesman Journal arrives at the end of our driveway every morning, I'm familiar with every important national story in the newspaper, and many of the state and local stories, because I'm an avid reader of online news.
(I subscribe to the online New York Times and Washington Post, plus the Oregonian. And several times a day I peruse Politico, Google News, and various state/national commentators via my Twitter feed.)
My advice to Troy was that the Salem Reporter emulate TIME magazine, which I still enjoy even though it comes out only once a week. I've continued to subscribe to TIME because it does a great job of news analysis, providing context and background information to factual stories that I've read about elsewhere.
For example, recently I was shocked to find that after reading an analytical TIME piece about Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement, I was largely persuaded that this could turn out to be a positive decision. The shock, of course, was realizing that Trump might have done something right.
Which is a reflection of the fact that we live in polarizing times.
Political junkies like me are going to inspect the first Salem Reporter stories with rapt attention, looking for clues about whether Larry Tokarski's funding of this online news source means that it will share Tokarski's conservative political views.
I'm betting that it won't, for several reasons.
First, co-founder Les Zaitz has impressive journalistic credentials, having been a two-time Pulitzer finalist and an investigative reporter with the Oregonian. Second, it wouldn't make business sense for the Salem Reporter to have a conservative slant given that Salem is a liberal-leaning city.
The best reason why I expect Salem Reporter will be a success came before I sat down to talk with Troy.
After ordering a nonfat 16-ounce vanilla latte, I gave the Beanery barista a five-dollar bill and got 75 cents in change. Without any thought, I put the three quarters in the tip jar.
My one-year subscription to the Salem Reporter is costing me $100. That's 27 cents a day.
So what went in a coffeehouse tip jar was three days worth of local online news. I have no idea how often the three Salem Reporter reporters will be able to write a fairly in-depth story. Let's say, one every three days, though it could take less time.
If I'm able to read on average one good online Salem Reporter story a day, paying 27 cents for that is a no-brainer for me. And it also should be for anyone else in Salem who cares about what is happening in this town.
Plus, Troy told me that local businesses are being asked to sponsor "bulk" subscriptions to the Salem Reporter, which will make the news source available to low-income people who otherwise wouldn't be able to pay for a subscription. In other words, these businesses would essentially be Salem Reporter sponsors.
I think this is a good idea, even though ideally the Salem Reporter would be self-sufficient via individual subscriptions so it has a revenue stream that isn't dependent on a few large contributors. Five thousand annual subscriptions would bring in $500,000 a year, and ten thousand would bring in $1 million a year.
Either amount seems sufficient for an online news source, but I readily admit that I'm clueless about what the Salem Reporter budget should be.
I just hope this new entry to Salem's journalism scene survives, along with the Statesman Journal, Salem Weekly, and Salem Business Journal, because more is better when it comes to local news choices.