Welcome to the Terminal Value Podcast
Nov. 9, 2020

#9 The Importance of Local Journalism with Mark Garber

#9 The Importance of Local Journalism with Mark Garber

Independent Journalism is a critically important part of maintaining a democratic society. Unfortunately, it seems that media has become increasingly dominated by a handful of major corporations and technology companies.

In many cases, local journalism is the only remaining bridge to create an independent voice. Doug and Mark talk about the dynamics of local journalism and its importance to the community's overall health.

Doug's business specializes in partnering with companies and non-profits to capture overhead cost savings without layoffs to fund growth and strengthen financial results.

Schedule time with Doug to talk about your business at www.MeetDoug.Biz




Welcome to the terminal value Podcast where each episode provides in depth insight about the long term value of companies and ideas in our current world. Your host for this podcast is Doug Utberg, the founder and principal consultant for Business of Life, LLC.

Doug: Welcome to the terminal value podcast. I have Mark Garber with us. Mark is the chief publisher for Pamplin Media Group, which is a local media chain, I think you'd say for the Portland metropolitan area. And Mark and I are here today to talk about the importance of local journalism, not just to the Portland area, but really to pretty much any area. Mark, welcome to the show. And thank you for coming on.

Mark: Thanks, Doug. Glad to be here.

Doug: So tell me a little bit how has the pimply Media Group been, you know, how is the vault? Everybody wants to talk about COVID. But just in general, the, you know, the technical turmoil, the technology turmoil that's been happening for the last 15 years. How is this impacted? pamphlet? Because, of course, it's a diversified set of newspaper news publications, but there has to have been an impact.

Mark: Oh, yeah, the technology, as you know, dramatically changed what we do. And local journalism. And you know, it really goes back, Doug for 25, 30 years. If you think back to the very beginnings of, of online content, and newspapers, actually, were some of the first entities to jump into online news. You know, I started publishing news online. 

Doug: Yeah.

Mark: And so we were really competing with ourselves for a number of years in terms of giving our product away.

Doug: Yeah.

Mark: Online while we were still charging people to read it in print. So but you're right, that is really accelerated. I'd say, you know, since you know, the mid 2000s. 

Doug: Yeah. 

Mark: It's really changed the newspaper world. And we actually, with our 25, local newspapers, we have more people now, who read us digitally than who read us in print, we still have, you know, hundreds of 1000s of people read us and brand.

Doug: Yeah. 

Mark: But we have more than that, who read us online?

Doug: Yeah. yeah, that's, and yeah, I mean, what are some of the adaptations even making I mean, because, you know, I think, you know, of course, we'll get to the importance of the local journalism, because I obviously think it's important because I subscribe to the local journalists, and, you know, and to the, I actually do the all digital all access package, to subscribe, not just to the Portland Tribune and the Newburgh graphic, which is where I live, but also the broader Metropolitan papers, just because I think it's really important to understand what's happening in the different local communities. Just, you know, that tell me a little bit about, you know, just kind of a about the adaptations that Pamplin has made to, you know, to stay in the game.

Mark: Yeah, and I'll try to not get too too technical in what we do. But obviously, it's changed our entire workflow as far as how we, how we distribute the news.

Doug: Yeah. 

Mark: And so, you know, in the old days, where there was a daily newspaper, or weekly newspaper, or twice weekly, whatever the frequency was, I mean, everything was geared toward meeting a deadline for that edition of the print edition. Now, news happens, you know, minute by minute, hour by hour, and it goes online immediately. And so, you know, from a technology standpoint, you have to have infrastructure in place to make that happen. So we have our own editorial database, with babblin, where we all all of our 25 newspapers share that editorial database, it becomes something of a internal wire service, so we can share news across the platform. You know, and then it also relates to, you know, our revenue model, which is previously the way that we made money was by getting people to subscribe having a you know, aggregating a large audience in print and then selling advertising.

Doug: Yeah. 

Mark: To people who wanted to reach that audience. In the digital world, it works somewhat like that, but the audience is so much more segmented and fragmented that it becomes much more about you know, Narrowcasting versus, you know, reaching a broad swath of the population. So. So we do, obviously, as you pointed out, I mean, a lot of the segmentation that we do is based on geography Newburgh.

Doug: Yeah. 

Mark: And yet, you subscribe to the Newberg graphic either online or in print, then the news is going to be tailored to you as a resident news, Newburgh and advertising will be too. But all that is required technological changes that 

Doug: Yeah. 

Mark: You know, we had 30 years ago thought about it, we wouldn't have believed the changes that were coming.

Doug: Yeah, now I can totally, I can completely see that. Can you expand on the idea of narrowcasting a little bit because I just subjectively I kind of I personally feel like that's really the future of media is, you know, of course, I think it's, you know, everybody sees the big broad media channels. But I think that the as much as you know, I think that the place where media where a lot of media will still become relevant, and local media especially, is in getting into, you know, to your to more and more narrow interests, or I don't want to say narrow that sounds like that sounds like a way that you describe a fringe political group, but it's you it's almost the kind of getting into more niche interests, or more people more and more personal interests. You know, what, let me just expand on the idea a little bit, and let me know your thoughts.

Mark: Yeah. And so, I mean, obviously, historically, we've been based on geography. And again, you know, 25 publications and, and they range from anywhere from, you know, our smallest newspaper and SDK to to, you know, the Portland Tribune, which serves the City of Portland and then we have, you know, all the major suburbs around Portland last week regression, Beaverton. 

Doug: Yeah.  

Mark: Forest Grove, Hillsborough, and then out in Central Oregon, we have Madras in Prineville. And so, you know, that's sort of the starting point. But then, when you get into the digital world, people have specific interests. And so right now, an obvious very obvious thing that we're doing is, you know, a lot of people want to know what's happening statewide and locally. And with the upcoming election, so we have a politics newsletter that goes out. And so it's curated to be just the political news. So we're excluding everything else, you know, when sports are more active than they happen to be right now, because the COVID, you know, we have products that are tailored to, you know, the news about the blazers or the news about, you know, the ducks in the beavers so that people who are specifically interested in those things, they can subscribe to those newsletters. We have a business newsletter with our business Tribune publication that's really focused on more on the construction sector, but it goes out weekly basis. We have a another one called the capital Insider, which is focused on the news of the legislature and state government. 

Doug: Okay.

Mark: So that's how you sort of slice and dice it over time. And then you have an audience who is intensely interested in that topic. And then you hopefully have advertisers who want to reach that specific audience. 

Doug: Yeah.

Mark: Because they're their interests, they can affiliate with that interest group.

Doug: Well, speaking for myself, one of the one of the things that I've come to believe, as I've gotten older is that I've come to believe that local, you know, local events, local elections, Local Decisions, are actually far more important to my life than, than the national events. Because of course, you know, everybody's following the presidential election with bated breath. You know, whereas this the state where we live in Oregon, you know, whether you're blue or red, Oregon has gone for whoever the Democratic candidate was in every election since 1988. It is extremely unlikely that is going to change anytime in the foreseeable future. So what that fundamentally means is that the, you know, the the presidential election for Oregon is effectively already decided, but there's a lot of really important things at the state and local level that I think are that kind of get overshadowed by that, you know, by that consistent drumbeat at the at the national level. I, in your view, what do you think there's an effective way to kind of create awareness of this because it took me a little while to really put the pieces together and i think that i think that it would help calm a lot of people's anxiety, if they could, you know, if they could consciously turn off the national news, drumbeat a little bit.

Mark: You know, we've found in the past four years, you know, things have just become so intensely partisan, that there have been readers who have said to us, you know, I subscribed to your papers, because for exactly what you just talked about, Doug, which is, I want to tune all that out. And I just I sort of think about what's happening in my community, what's important to me. And then when you, you know, you take that to the next level, and you think, okay, you know, things happen at the national level, obviously, they're important, this stimulus discussion that's happening now is.

Doug: Yeah.

Mark: You know, directly important to many people's lives. But the, you know, day in and day out week in and week out what really matters? Well, you know, how about that pothole, you know, that's on your commute, you know, every day that you'd like to see filled, or, you know, how well funded is your fire department, if you were to have, you know, a fire or, you know, the wildfires that we just had in September, you know, what were the root causes of those? And what can we as a state do to make it less likely that it will happen in the future? You know, is my water bill gonna go out next month, and inside of the people we elect to the city council, to the legislature, to the school board, you know, we didn't even talk about education as far as the importance of that issue, transportation, all those things have a direct effect on how you live your life every day. And, and for the most part, except for, you know, during extraordinary circumstances, like we're having right now, the National decisions, it takes them years to filter down to to the local level.

Doug: Absolutely agree. Well, and so I think a case in point example, I will read Newberg, there's, there's a bond issue on the ballot. And I think this is this is a really tough year to have a school bond on the ballot, because a lot of the kids are not in school right now. You know, but things like that are critically important, because, for example, I was looking at some of looking up some of the information. And a lot of the schools down here in Newburgh were built in the 1970s 1980s. They've been around for a really long time, they need some updating, you know, but of course, the school districts, they don't have enough resources to be able to fund a lot of that out of their operating budget. So they need to go, they need to request capital funds from the public. You know, but, but of course, if we don't have any, any information out about that, it gets really hard to get people to get mindshare. And I just I really appreciate what Pamplin is doing, as far as kind of creating that mindshare, and helping to create visibility to that. And I think you know, there are, of course, will be people who listen to this podcast, who are outside of the Portland metropolitan area. And so I think we'd want to advocate for them to tune into their local journalism as well. But, but yeah, Can Can you just give, give us a little more insight as far as people who are in the Portland metro area? What are some of the ways I mean, of course, naturally, they're subscribing to their local newspaper, or subscribing to the digital, the digital version, but what are some other ways that people can really become tuned in to what's happening at a more local level that you've seen, or that you've seen is most effective?

Mark: Yeah, well, you know, the starting point is what you already mentioned, which is, you know, get your give yourself access to a reliable source of information and you know.

Doug: Label information. What's that?

Mark: Well, I see and I don't want to go off on a tangent here, but but a lot of people.

Doug: A lot of times enough on tangents.

Mark: A lot of people think that what they get from Facebook or other social media is, you know, sufficient to be informed about what's happening in your community. But, but that's not vetted by, you know, professional journalists. It's not. And I'm not saying that it's all, you know, not factual, but a lot of what goes on social media is rumor, speculation. So someone you know, with an axe to grind, who wants to complain about a business or whatever, and they'll go on there and say things that may or may not be true, or things about their local government that may or may not be true. So, you know, finding credible sources of information, whether it's our newspapers or other sources that that you that you feel confident in is an important thing. But there's, you know, myriad ways that people can get involved and whether it's serving on a committee, with the school district, you know, or a committee with the city. 

Doug: Yeah.

Mark: I mean, there's other design committees, there's committees that look at, you know, how can we make our libraries better? There's, there's all kinds of ways and that's one of the things that we actually look at when we when we make recommendations on our editorial pages for people who are running for local offices. Now we look and say, have they done anything in the community that would show that they really care about you know Newberg, for example. Are they just running for office because they want to promote themselves or they again, have an agenda, a personal agenda they want to achieve, because we find that people who, you know, submerge themselves in volunteerism, you know, they've got a larger more of the world.

Doug: Now, I think that's a, that's a, that's a really insightful view. I mean, because I think that it's really easy to kind of hold a view that okay, well, you know, the only way I can make an impact is if I hold some kind of office like, Well, you know, that's not necessarily the case, as you said, you can volunteer for committees. You know, there's a lot of community organizations, if you're a local business person join up with the chamber, because trust me, when I say we spend enough time around people in the chamber, you know, you'll start doing some community interest activities, and chances are, you'll end up in something like a rotary group. And, you know, the A lot of times the volunteers intends to seed more volunteers, and I find a lot of the same people are on multiple seats across multiple organizations. But I think that's how you get really strong tech communities is when you start getting more people who are involved.

Mark: I totally agree. And that actually is, the mission statement for our company is that we, we build strong communities through great local journalism. The idea is we want to build a stronger community. 

Doug: Yeah.

Mark: Not that we want to make, you know, we want to make money, don't get me wrong, we want to be, we want to cover our costs and make a little bit of a profit. But that's not the goal. The goal is how do we build stronger communities and, and we do it by encouraging a lot of the groups that you're talking about whether service clubs or nonprofit organizations, they need us there to make people aware of what they do. And that's one of the things that, frankly, is endangered, we began to believe, we don't really need, you know, local media, because we have social media or because I can go on the web, and I can find out, you know, where to buy, you know, the hardware I need, or whatever, without subscribing to a website, you know, when people began to believe they don't need it, and all these groups, all this infrastructure that that upholds communities and makes them stronger, it loses its footing.

Doug: Yeah, I think that's and that's kind of that that was actually really the the undertone, a message that I was looking for out of this podcast is to really advocate for people to, you know, number one to engage with your local, your local journalistic providers, but then also to get involved in the local community. Because I think that's, I mean, you're because we all want to pretend we want to pretend that whoever wins the presidential election, that that's what's going to make make things better or worse. But I think the truth matter is that our communities are really in our own hands. And it's going to be how many people decide to get involved locally, that will really determine kind of what happens with the future of our communities. And you know, because like you were talking about with social media, the, my wife and I regularly have this conversation about how the, you know, and I'll use Facebook as an example. But Google's identical, which is that the thing that animates social media is really just maximizing the amount of views and clicks. And so whether it's factual or not, is no bearing whatsoever, the only thing that algorithms are optimized for, is to get the most clicks. And if something gets somebody gets people enraged, and is completely fabricated, if it gets them to view and click, it'll get you it'll get elevated on the page, I think a lot of people don't really don't understand that is that the objective of social media is to get people to stay on social media and never leave not to, you know, you're not you're not to elevate and you're not to elevate ideas, whether they be, you know, it's you know, the whole purpose is just to keep people engaged, it is not to find whatever is, I guess true is the wrong word. Because a lot of things are matter of...