Grit and Ink
EO Media Group Board of Directors 2017, from left, Jeff Rogers, Heidi Wright, Cory Bollinger, Kathryn Brown, Susan Forrester Rana, John Perry, Harrison Forrester and Steve Forrester.

PENDLETON — Family executives are at the center of this history. But the hiring of talented and exceptional non-family business managers has been essential to fashioning strategies for the company’s survival in difficult times. In the postwar era, the most significant of those top managers were Pat Patterson, hired in 1984, followed in 2005 by John Perry. When Perry retired in 2017, Heidi Wright became chief operating officer.

The family ownership has also elected non-family, outside directors to the board of directors. In 1997, Tom Brown came to a board position while he was president of a New England group of newspapers. Joining Brown was Lucy Mohl, who was a player in the early Seattle digital world. Subsequently joining the board were Jeff Rogers and Cory Bollinger, who held top positions in Midwest newspaper companies.

While the company began the new century by reckoning with the challenge of digital publishing, it did not lose sight of its mission as a news organization. Identifying climate change as the major issue of the new century, all the company’s newsrooms collaborated on a 2005 year-long series on how climate change was appearing in each region. The series won a national award of special merit in the Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment.

Community newspapers face a challenge in the digital age. COO Heidi Wright’s main challenge is monetizing the digital side of publishing. One of Wright’s initiatives is One Boat, a digital platform that helps local tourism-related businesses reach an out-of-area market.

Prior to Wright’s arrival, in 2015, the company formed a collaboration with the Pamplin Media Group to create a statehouse bureau that is based at the Capital Press.

The bureau produces stories for the newspapers of Pamplin and the EO Media Group. Its reporters also produce a weekly emailed report from Salem, called Oregon Capital Insider. These two companies have enlarged the audience of its statehouse report by signing other newspapers in eastern and southern Oregon. Those papers’ readers become subscribers to the Oregon Capital Insider. The enlarged size of that audience has enabled Wright, in partnership with Pamplin’s top executive, Mark Garber, to monetize the newsletter, with advertising.

One of the company’s boldest moves, in 2019, was moving The Daily Astorian from a five-day publishing schedule to three days. In the process, the newspaper was renamed The Astorian. As part of this shift, newspaper delivery moved away from independent contractor carriers to the U.S. Postal Service.

Throughout many transitions and the continuing need to run a profitable enterprise, the owners have always kept a larger view of the meaning of family. Their sense of family extended beyond just the relationship of the owners in a closely held company. The EOMG has attempted to provide decent and fair working conditions for its employees. Pay and benefits met and often exceeded industry standards. Whenever financial conditions allowed, the company maintained a policy of profit sharing with employees — the money being paid into retirement accounts. The company also promoted from within and provided training and growth opportunities to make that option possible. Recognizing that each newspaper has a somewhat unique environment, the EOMG upper management has given local managers considerable autonomy to serve the needs of their readers and communities.

The EOMG of the 21st century is an example of a once common but now endangered enterprise: the family-owned and run newspaper. The company traces its roots to the Bull and Jackson families of the nineteenth century and continues with the Aldrich, Forrester, Bedford, and Brown and Chessman families of the 20th and 21st centuries. Across time, the connecting link always has been a commitment to providing objective reporting and honoring the diverse opinions and values of the communities served by their newspapers.

(1) comment

MFBend

Great article. Thanks for the insight. I appreciate the values EOMG honors.

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