The Dalles Chronicle office is a blur of activity these days as employees ready for a move and map out content for a twice-weekly publication.
“There is definitely a lot of change going on right now and it’s exciting but also a little hectic,” said Publisher Chelsea Marr.
The move and new Wednesday and weekend publication schedule are all taking place the first week of July. The Chronicle is relocating from 315 Federal Street in downtown The Dalles to the east end of town in the old Tum-A-Lum building, 811 East Second Street.
Although the original move was planned for 2016, Eagle Media, the parent company of the Chronicle, as well as the Hood River News and White Salmon Enterprise, was involved in renovations of other properties, which delayed the move for the Chronicle, Marr said.
In addition to the Chronicle’s new home, Eagle owner Denny Smith purchased the former grocery store on Chenowith Loop Road (near the transit center) and the building on Webber Street that houses Fastenal. The buildings are owned by Eagle Pacific Industrial Park, the real estate arm of the company.
“These purchases, which have taken place within the last two years, show an investment commitment to the community,” said Joe Petshow, president of the company.
The Chronicle’s office hours for the new building will continue to be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. The old office and adjoining space is on the market and listed for $1.35 million with Brian Lauterbach, a broker for Windermere Real Estate in The Dalles.
Marr said it will be an adjustment for the staff to go from 15,162 square feet of space, although not all was used for Chronicle operations, to a building of 4,600 square feet.
“Every department is going to be working together in one big room in the new office, so it will be interesting to see how that goes,” she said. “Thankfully, we have a great team and good camaraderie, although I’m not sure that editorials’ idea to use Nerf guns to ‘pass messages’ is such a great idea…”
Several weeks ago, the Chronicle announced it would change from a daily print publication to delivery twice each week.
Subscriptions for print will enable readers to also access the e-version of the print publication. Advance copies of each newspaper will be available in news racks the evening before.
A hard paywall is now in place on the Chronicle website, www.thedalleschronicle.com for most content.
However, Marr said obituaries and public meeting notices remain outside the wall, so they are readily available to everyone. Legal notices are posted on the Oregon Newspaper Publisher Association site for easy review.
Since announcing the change, the Chronicle has been criticized on social media, and in emails and phone calls, for not making all of its content free.
“We are a public service and we love that people feel a sense of ownership in our product, but we are also a private business,” said Marr.
“We have to make decisions that cover the cost of our resources and staff time.”
The catalyst for the change, she said, was twofold:
• Younger readers want to receive news via the website or on the Chronicle’s Facebook page. That has affected the entire industry as papers of all sizes have begun putting more of an emphasis on their digital platforms to meet the needs of the next generation.
• Operating expenses have become costlier with steep tariffs imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department — up to 32 percent —on newsprint imported from Canada. While that’s a boost for the five remaining U.S. newsprint mills, the industry relies on imports to meet the market demand.
A complaint by a mill in Washington triggered the tariffs in January. North Pacific Paper Company, on the banks of the Columbia River in Longview, claims Canadian newsprint (uncoated groundwood paper) exports are being unfairly subsidized, which enables these companies to sell product into the U.S. at unfairly low prices.
The company contends that Canadian newsprint mills benefit from cheap hydroelectric power and state-owned forests and that U.S. suppliers are deliberately being undercut to take over the market.
According to an NPR (National Public Radio) report in April, U.S. newspapers are buying about 80 percent less paper than they did two decades ago, which has forced mills on both sides of the border to close, so the competition of survivors is fierce.
The U.S. Commerce Department is investigating North Pacific’s complaint and will decide whether to finalize or lift the tariff later this year, Petshow said.
He said the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association has encouraged Congress to suspend newsprint source material tariffs until the commerce department can conduct a study on the economic impact.
“The demand for trusted news and information is greater than ever – in whatever the format,” Petshow said. “Newspapers, especially smaller ones like ours, are key parts of our communities. They are a tremendous history resource. They can help foster pride and are outlets for public discourse.
“The tariffs are threatening our ability to carry out our mission.”
There are 68 newspapers in Oregon, said Marr, and only 15 are dailies, most in areas with a greater population base than The Dalles.
“We have to find the sustainable balance,” she said.
“Change is difficult, and we are feeling it, too. We want our readers to know that we are making the adjustments we need to keep the Chronicle viable and to make sure we continue to fulfill our watchdog role and provide a venue for local news.”
She said senior citizens who do not have access to computers have registered objections to the change, but the editorial staff at the Chronicle is going to make sure that many relevant stories posted on the web will also be found in print.
Marr said fresh content will be posted every weekday on the website for the convenience of online readers. Breaking news will be posted seven days a week at the time it happens.
Over the past couple of weeks, subscribers have been asked to weigh in on the content they want retained in the newspaper. Marr said it was not surprising to learn that most want exactly what they receive now.
“We are listening and will be making the two print editions each week larger to accommodate the features, comics, TV guide and other copy that people expect,” she said.
People wanting to provide input about favorite content are invited to do so at TDChron@thedalleschronicle.com or by calling 541-296-2141, ext. 112.
Starting in July, subscribers will see an adjustment on their renewal notices to reflect the reduction in print publications. One-year subscribers will be extended up to two years based on pro-rating and six-month subscribers will be extended up to one year.
As part of the shift, reporter Emily Fitzgerald will shift from duties at the Chronicle to fill an open position at the Hood River News.
“Emily will continue to be a valuable member of our Eagle team,” said Marr, who is publisher of both papers.
Petshow said the strong presence of the Chronicle in the community will continue.
He said Eagle has roots that date to 1933 when Elmo Smith and his wife, Dorothy, borrowed $25 to establish a mimeographed weekly newspaper in Ontario. More than eight decades later, under the leadership of Elmo’s son and former U.S. Congressman Denny Smith, the company continues to have a strong presence in the communities it serves.
“We’ve had our challenges, although they’ve been nothing like what the metro and regional daily newspapers have experienced,” said Petshow. “Our community newspapers zero in on a specific area and meet its information needs in print and online.
“Metro newspapers have always tied themselves to national and international news. They’ve never had the time or resources to cover local events, unlike the community newspaper that focuses on what is happening in that area.
“That said, our business model continues to change. We have our core printed and digital products, but also have added targeted publications that fit a need in our community.
“We publish the traditional farming sections, home and garden sections and community activity sections. Now, we also offer magazines, information books, medical guides, tourist publications, coupon books and sports calendars.”
Marr is optimistic that once life settles into the new routine at the Chronicle, the product provided to readers will be robust and informative.
“Hang in there with us, the Chronicle has been a part of this community for 150 years and we are setting things up so that we remain vital for years to come,” Marr said.