There's a point in almost any bad relationship when you know you've stuck around longer than you've should have. The moment came when you should have broken up but somehow you thought things might change, that whatever was weighing things down would dissipate if you only waited it out. This is how I feel about The Oregonian.
I first started to subscribe to The Oregonian in 1993 when I first moved to Portland. It was our first connecting point to the news of our new home. The Oregonian in 1993 was a mighty thing, with staff writers and columnists galore. The paper stood as many things in Portland do: much stronger than you'd expect for a city of its size. Flash forward 17 years and you have a paper in absolute ruin. Where once stood a Business section is often a single page of wire reports and cobbled-together news bits. Where once there was insightful and award-winning investigative journalism, you now have reporters using anectodal information; my favorite was for the story Construction of downtown Portland high-rise is halted by tight credit in which "reporter" Ryan Frank says, "Real estate brokers had taken to saying that Park Avenue West would be built by the "Bank of Tom Moyer." No source, no quote, no real reporting.
The Oregonian suffered like most papers in this country as the economy faltered and news migrated online. But I stuck it out. I tried to look past the fact that more and more of the paper was comprised of news articles that came off the news wire. It became harder when I started to see wire articles appear in the paper that had been online for days and some times weeks in advance. Again, a sign of the economic times.
With belt tightening at The Oregonian came another clear trend: articles that were going to print without being proofed. Over the last year we've played a game at the breakfast table, reading aloud some of the headlines and articles from The Oregonian to our two grade-schoolers to see if they could spot the glaring grammatical errors. They almost always can.
Beyond that, this year we began to notice a new trend. The Oregonian, once pointed to as "the liberal media," took a dramatic sharp turn to the right. From taking on a cover sleeve ad for a conservative measure to article after article talking about how much Oregon Democrats love to tax and spend, The Oregonian over the past year has made no bones about its bent. If you look at The Oregonian's coverage of the Governor's race, you'll see big pictures of Chris Dudley and tiny pictures of John Kitzhaber. You'll see big, bold, above the fold front page blurbs about the Democrats struggling to hold onto power and the Republican advance in the election. To be fair, not all the writers at The Oregonian are right wing – this direction seems to be implemented from the top, and can very much be seen in what wire stories are selected and where they appear in the paper. But honestly, I don't need a paper that echoes my political beliefs. If something is well written, researched, fair and thoughtful, then I don't care what the bent of the publication is.
I was completely prepared to look past the new political bent of The Oregonian and just focus on the local news stories and the non-political stories. But more and more, signs reared their ugly heads that it was time to move on. A lead food writer who won't eat at most restaurants in Portland? Okay, we get the vegan thing, we'll look past it. Dropping the TV Guide from the Sunday paper in favor of one that you pay extra for each week? Fine, we'll deal with it. Day after day of Anna Boden's absurdly bad columns? Okay, we'll stop reading her. The signs kept piling up and we kept trying to ignore them.
The unraveling of The Oregonian and complete lack of credibility became evident when the A&E put the story Non-foodies food guide: Dependable local chains and restaurants rank high on diners' lists on its front cover. It's not just that the paper published this laughable piece about food in Portland, it's that the editor put it on the cover. Editors are supposed to sanity check their sections and let the cream rise to the top – in this case, what was floating at the top of the A&E wasn't cream.
What clearer message did we need that it was time to break it off with The O? And then that message came. Literally, one week after this non-foodie fiasco article, a letter hit our mailbox informing us that our monthly subscription price was going to increase to $19.50 a month. No explanation of the increase, just an effective date. This got me to do some math:
1 year of the Oregonian on Auto Bill = $234
- $234 = 1 Wifi Kindle with $95 left to spend on content.
- 2 x $234 = An iPad. In 2 years of sitting at the kitchen table reading my news on an iPad, it'll pay for itself.
For $234 a year I could get full subscriptions to: Time Magazine ($20 at Amazon), Entertainment Weekly ($15) , Rolling Stone ($19) , Sports Illustrated ($40), Smart Money ($10), Wired ($10), Real Simple ($20), Martha Stewart Living ($28), Dwell ($20), Portland Monthly ($17), Disney Family Fun ($10), Esquire ($8), and Men's Journal ($9), and still have money left over for a latte.
This doesn't even begin to consider the fact that there are a number of fantastic Portland news sources online. I get more good information about what's happening in the neighborhoods from Neighborhood Notes, and get more event and entertainment news from PDXPipeline. Even most of The Oregonian's news is up free online at Oregon Live.
When you put all this together, it's hard not to see the writing on the wall, and honestly it's a real shame. I've always loved sitting at the breakfast table reading my morning newspaper. It's a daily ritual that I will miss, but I just can't ignore the reality of The Oregonian, so I am cancelling my subscription. There aren't many places where I've been a customer for 17 years, and honestly I'm probably not that important to The Oregonian. But I'd be a fool not to break up with you.