Sponsored by Oregon Business

Good news for the little guy

| Print |  Email
Monday, May 01, 2006


When five employees of the Burns Times-Herald bought their weekly newspaper a few weeks ago, it wasn’t big enough news to rate much coverage. In fact, the only paper to cover the story was, well, the Times-Herald.

But there’s a lot that’s newsworthy in this quiet little staff buyout. Things like optimism, commitment and independence. 

There are only about 3,000 hardy souls in this high-desert town hard hit in the ’90s by the collapse of timber. It was job security pure and simple that made buying the Times-Herald from its Idaho owners an easy decision for editor Debbie Raney, manager Sue Pedersen, reporter Randy Parks, ad salesperson Donna Clark and bookkeeper Linda Baker, who own equal shares in the paper. (The other two employees of the paper have an option to buy in when they can.)

“It wasn’t scary at all. Scary would have been doing nothing,” says Pedersen. “Buying the paper was simply the best investment any of us could have made for our futures.”

Job security isn’t easy to find in remote Harney County, or in a lot of rural Oregon communities that have lost traditional industries and struggle with the economic blow. The workforce in Harney earns a living in a smattering of ways: agriculture, forestry, recreation, manufacturing, retail, education, health. More than half of the households earn less than $35,000 a year. Even when you have one job, it might not be enough. Everyone at the Times-Herald does something else: Raney, Clark and Baker are from ranching families; Pedersen owns the only movie theater in town; and Parks has held a number of community positions.

So when the new owners, who purchased the paper in November, said they planned job cuts, these longtime locals quickly formed a partnership, aptly named Survival Media. With the help of a $35,000 grant from the Southeast Regional Alliance, each employee ponied up and an offer was made. They became the official owners on April 1.

The weekly, with a countywide circulation of 3,900, has had several out-of-town owners, some with news judgment that Raney found boneheaded. With relish, she describes her full-page coverage of the local elementary school’s carnival. “That would have been deemed as not ‘newsworthy’ under the corporate owners,” says Raney, who has been at the paper for eight years. “Well, we sell a lot of papers to moms and grandmas when we cover things like that.”

By buying the paper, the staff also made sure the local integrity of the Times-Herald would remain intact.

The Times-Herald folks join an increasing number of workers in industries, most famously airlines and the steel sector, who have taken an ownership interest in their companies, often jumping in during failing times. In the newspaper world, it’s been miserable for a while: declining circulation, sagging stock prices, pressure on revenues. Huge staff cuts have become common. Just recently, newspaper chain Knight-Ridder was sold despite its
aggressive cost-cutting, and the Newspaper Guild, which represents newsroom employees, has bid to buy 12 of the papers.

Then along comes a recent report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which states that the war in newsrooms between journalism idealists and accountants has ended. “The idealists have lost,” the report concludes. 

Well, not so in Burns.

Says Pedersen: “The significance of our buyout is to let people know they can do these things. When people pool their thoughts, energy and desires, mountains can be moved.”

No offense to accountants, but at the Times-Herald, at least, the idealists have won this round.

— Robin Doussard
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


More Articles

Baby. Boom!

September 2015
Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A new co-working model disrupts office sharing, child care and work-life balance as we know it.


Back to School

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Oregon is home to an abundance of gritty warehouses reborn as trendy office spaces, as well as crafty hipsters turned entrepreneurs. Does the combination yield an equally bounteous office products sector? Not so much. Occupying the limited desk jockey space are Field Notes, a spinoff of Portland’s Draplin Design Company, and Schuttenworks, known for whittling Apple device stands. For a full complement of keyboard trays, docking stations and mouse pads, check out the GroveMade line, guaranteed to boost the cachet of even the lowliest cubicle drone. 


The List: 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For in Oregon

October 2015
Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Oregon Business magazine’s seventh annual 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For project attracted more than 150 nonprofits from around the state from a variety of sectors, including social services and environmental advocacy.  More than 5,000 employees and volunteers filled out the survey, rating their satisfaction with work environment, mission and goals, career development and learning, benefits and compensation, and management and communications.


Fare Thee Well, Company Town

October 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015

Corporate headquarters are no longer a marker of economic prowess.


Light Reading

September 2015
Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ask any college student: Textbook prices have skyrocketed out of control. Online education startup Lumen Learning aims to bring them down to earth.


Social media transforming sports business

The Latest
Thursday, September 24, 2015

The traditional model of sports teams using paid media to get their message across is disappearing as teams look instead to social media to interact with fans.


After the Orange Line

Linda Baker
Tuesday, September 08, 2015
090815-trimet-thumbBY LINDA BAKER

Alan Lehto, TriMet's director of policy & planning, shares a few thoughts on ride sharing and more nimble bus services.

Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02