Here's some interesting news about the news industry in Salem. Read all about it in a Poynter story, "Salem, Oregon is getting a new online news site. 'I'm pretending there's no other media there.'"
Leslie Zaitz is the publisher and editor of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon. Larry Tokarski is a businessman and real estate developer with strong connections to Salem.
On Sept. 17, the Salem Reporter will go live with Zaitz as CEO and editor and three full-time reporters who will cover “local government, schools, business, nonprofits and state government,” according to a press release.
Zaitz isn’t revealing the amount of Tokarski’s investment to get the Salem Reporter up and running, but Zaitz expects the for-profit site, which will have a paywall, to be subscriber-funded.
“You have to pay to get the news,” he said.
A monthly subscription will cost $10 and a yearly subscription will cost $100. The Reporter will accept advertising, and Zaitz is looking at founding sponsorships, “but I forecast zero dollars from either one of those.”
...The new reporters — Rachel Alexander, Aubrey Wieber and Troy Brynelson — will move into their new office Aug. 13, and will have a month to get up and running.
In figuring out what the Reporter will cover, Zaitz sat down with a whiteboard and started sketching things out, he said, based on his own experience and judgment. He hasn’t modeled the Reporter after anything, and he isn’t worried about the other media in town, which include the daily Statesman Journal, the Salem Weekly and the Salem Business Journal.
So how will the Reporter be different? Zaitz isn't worrying about that. The Reporter won’t choose what it covers based on holes left by other media outlets, he said.
“I’m pretending there’s no other media there, let’s put it that way,” he said. “Otherwise you handcuff yourself.”
It'll be interesting to see how the Salem Reporter affects the Statesman Journal, Salem Weekly, and the Salem Business Journal. There's a rumor that the Statesman Journal will stop print publication in 2019.
If that happens, the Salem Reporter will have a head start on becoming the online news leader in this town, making it more difficult for the Statesman Journal to hold onto subscribers.
Seemingly Salem Weekly and the Salem Business Journal will be less affected by the Salem Reporter, since both are free publications that don't rely much on subscriptions.
The price of $100 a year, or $10 a month, for a Salem Reporter subscription strikes me as a pretty good deal.
A new subscriber to the Statesman Journal pays $22 a month after an introductory rate expires, while old subscribers pay an outrageous $59 a month, the last time I wrote about this.
My main concern about the Salem Reporter is how Larry Tokarski's funding of it might affect news coverage, given Tokarski's conservative leaning.
UPDATE: I just found the Salem Reporter website. It has this statement from Larry Tokarski, which makes me feel much better.
“Les has complete control over the editorial content of Salem Reporter. I won’t participate in or be consulted about story selection, framing or decisions. The independence of Salem Reporter is essential to guarantee its credibility. I trust Les to establish and guard that credibility.” – Larry Tokarski.
Given Zaitz's long experience in journalism, I suspect he wouldn't have taken the job of Salem Reporter CEO/editor without an assurance that he'll have free rein in covering local news.
Meaning, without a conservative slant. Or any slant. The Poynter story concludes with some encouraging words.
He [Zaitz] is using experience from 45 years of reporting, he said. And from that time he thinks only two things really matter.
“One, content is everything. We have to deliver quality news that serves the local community and not be worried about the clicks, not be worried about having some cat video go viral because it brings people to the site.”
The other: credibility.
Zaitz wants to know, when he retires (again), that he tried to do everything he could to help journalism and society.
“I expect this will work,” he said. “If it doesn’t, at least I tried. I didn’t just sit back and chip my teeth and bemoan bad fortunes.”
FURTHER UPDATE: I just forked out $100 for a year's subscription to Salem Reporter because I want this venture to succeed. I also contribute $10 a month to Salem Weekly, and have a Statesman Journal subscription, plus I read the Salem Business Journal every month.
I want more and better reporting of local news here in Salem. The more competition, and also some cooperation, between various news outlets -- and this includes bloggers like me -- is good for our town.
Yeah, it's kind of weird that after I've written critically about Larry Tokarski, and even got a warning letter from his attorney after Salem Weekly published an opinion piece I wrote about his Creekside development, I'm now paying a hundred bucks a year to a company that Tokarski provided start-up money for.
But life is complex, and makes for strange bedfellows.
Larry Tokarski and Les Zaitz, plus their reporters, are doing something good with Salem Reporter. Progressives like me shouldn't recoil from supporting this online news source just because Tokarski is a backer of it.
Let's give it a chance to succeed.