This past week, The Bulletin, after months of self-serving reporting about the loss of legal notices, finally laid its cards on the table and unveiled the carefully constructed boogeyman it's been building in plain sight over the past six months. The paper would be increasing its home delivery rates by more than 50 percent while slashing its staff by 10 percent, with cuts coming across the newsroom and elsewhere.
Publisher Gordon Black and the rest of the leaders at the paper’s parent company Western Communications didn’t blame the economy or the rise of social media and online browsing, declining readership among younger audiences, or even their abysmal record of ad sales in recent years.
No, at the very bottom of the mess, The Bulletin found a familiar foe: banks. The same ruthless merchants of commerce that had driven the paper to bankruptcy with their inflexible terms of repayment on The Bulletin’s building and equipment loan were quietly and deliberately undermining the profitability of the paper. Their crime: depriving the publication of its God-given right to publish, for a handsome fee, notices of home foreclosure.
While the rest of Central Oregon and most of the country was wringing its hands over home foreclosures and the economic black hole it was opening, your daily was cashing in the tide of personal insolvency. Every displaced family that couldn’t keep up with house payments in the heart of the recession represented another easy buck for your local paper. It was their silver lining, their insurance plan. And, as it turns out, it was their business plan. Recently the wheels of the foreclosure gravy train stopped turning. Lenders, leery of new regulations and blowback from borrowers and politicians, have returned bankruptcy proceedings to the courts. That may or may not be a good thing. But if you’re The Bulletin, it’s nothing short of heresy.
Thanks to its own dogged reporting and editorializing on the subject, The Bulletin brass is now able to claim, with an apparently straight face, that someone other than the paper’s own management is responsible for its precarious situation.
So as the 30-some displaced workers prepare to collect their last checks and countless others brace for potential layoffs in the future, we can’t help but wonder how many will have to contemplate whether or not they can afford to keep paying their overvalued mortgages. If they can’t, just remember that the real tragedy isn’t their impending financial turmoil and the loss of the American Dream, it’s that the garbage collectors up on Chandler didn’t get theirs.
It’s time the paper owns up to its own mistakes and stops using its remaining resources to foster these self-serving narratives. We’re giving the whole gang the Boot in hopes that they return to shining a light on the public interest rather than their self-interest.