“I just don’t have the money to continue,” owner Andrew Polin, who bought the weeklies in April 2008, told the Eugene Register-Guard. “I’m hoping it will be resurrected by someone.”
That someone came along this week. Not a deep-pocket investor or big-city chain, but a couple of former dishwashers who believe their community needs a local newspaper. Lorenzo Herrera, Nelson Rosales and Jennifer Rosales sent out birth announcements yesterday, proudly announcing that their Tri-County Tribune would begin publishing weekly on Jan. 28.
In a time when record numbers of newspapers are losing their shirts, starting a new one seems like, well, irrational exuberance. But publisher Nelson Rosales sees it differently. “Lots of people are thinking I’m nuts,” he says. “But I believe small communities are comforted by a newspaper. Most are not into the Internet yet. When the newspaper closed, we really felt the gap. I felt the void that I didn’t have a place to advertise. Plus, I enjoyed the paper. I know a lot of people get their information on their phone or the web. But I also know the paper is important … for a paper to be delivered. Most of us have been here 20-40 years. There are a lot of old traditions.”
The paper will be delivered free to 8,800 residents of Junction City, Harrisburg and Monroe. And where the paper is displayed, you can make a 50 cent donation if you like, which will go to local charities. Rosales plans for advertising to cover his expenses, about $5,000 per issue. He says they are about three-fourths of the way there for the first issue, and some local banks and businesses are buying two ads to show support.
Starting a newspaper in this economy is only one remarkable thing about this story. Rosales met Herrera 26 years ago when they were both dishwashers at a restaurant in Eugene. “We both went to school and learned English. He became a chef and I became a salesperson,” says Rosales, who then went on to work for Deschutes Brewery where he “learned a lot about business in general. I had the ambition to be a businessman.”
He and his wife, Jennifer, opened a restaurant in Roseburg (now sold), and then five years ago opened a second one, the Rodeo Steakhouse and Grill, in Junction City. Meanwhile, Herrera had moved from being a dishwasher to chef to owning his own landscaping business to working in a local bank. That’s when Rosales and Herrera reunited. “We started talking about doing a Spanish newspaper,” says Rosales, who is also chair of the Latino Business Network for Lane County.
This past September, they launched Adelante Latino, a monthly paper with a circulation of 15,000 aimed at the area’s growing Hispanic community. It, too, was started to fill a gap after Churchill Media shut down “La X,” the only local Spanish radio station in town. Arlie & Company, a Eugene real estate giant that just filed for bankruptcy this week, owned Churchill.
Then when word came of the demise of the Tri-County News, Rosales says local businesses approached him about taking on the job. He and Herrera put their heads together, had some money in the bank and some advertising commitments, and took the plunge. They hired eight of the people who lost their jobs at the News, including four reporters, and an editor, Gini Bramlett. The Trib has a total of 13 employees, mostly part-time, and they are working on launching their website, TriCountyTribune.net.
Rosales says the Trib will focus on three areas: school sports, business profiles and local news. And the area doesn’t lack for important stories to cover, with major employers like Country Coach RV filing for bankruptcy and a new state prison and a new mental health hospital on the horizon.
In our story last February on small-town newspapers, we reported that they were holding their own against the recession, but that most of the small publishers nationally were just as pessimistic about the future as their big-city brethren.
Seems as if Rosales and Herrera didn’t get the memo.
“The whole idea is for the community to have its own newspaper,” says Rosales. “We’re not there yet, but today I’m going to go shake more hands.”
Robin Doussard is the Editor of Oregon Business.