Willamette Week

Editor’s Departure Is Reminder of Local News Value

Mark Katches, the editor of The Oregonian and oregonlive.com who is leaving for a similar post in Florida, has helped keep Portland’s newspaper financially afloat while maintaining its basic job of covering local news, including through investigative journalism, original video content and a stronger digital identity.

Mark Katches, the editor of The Oregonian and oregonlive.com who is leaving for a similar post in Florida, has helped keep Portland’s newspaper financially afloat while maintaining its basic job of covering local news, including through investigative journalism, original video content and a stronger digital identity.


Mark Katches, editor of The Oregonian since 2014, is leaving for a similar job in Florida. The owner of New York’s The Daily News laid off half of its news staff, including the editor. Should we care? You bet we should.

Local newspapers have personalities and quirks that help to define their communities and contribute to what makes them unique. “Our local newspaper” is more than just an idle phrase. It is part of a community’s DNA.

It is no secret the business model of local newspapers is in serious trouble. The conversion of print publications to digital platforms that generate revenue has been rocky. As a result, newsrooms have shrunk. There are fewer reporters to gather local news. Stories of local interest go unnoticed and unreported. Enterprise and investigative journalism suffer. So does the community.

Katches came to The Oregonian in 2014 from the nonprofit Center of Investigative Reporting. Despite financial pressures, he emphasized “deep-dive journalism” that tackled stories about lead dust, senior care facilities and a teacher with an unchecked history of sexual abuse. He also pushed narrative stories, such as the award-winning series about a hand-raised polar bear at the Oregon Zoo.

Even though he frequently wrote bylined pieces, Katches is not a household word among the general public in the Portland metropolitan area, or even among readers of The Oregonian. Despite his relative anonymity, oregonlive.com under his watch grew its online audience by 70 percent. Katches created a video unit that earned six regional Emmy nominations this year, and he pushed watchdog journalism.

To some, The Oregonian is still the “local rag.” But, more significantly for the community, it is still here as a general circulation newspaper and doing its job of covering local news. Not all communities can say as much. The absence of a common, continuing source of information with known biases denies communities a collective sense of identity and self-reflection. You can hate your local newspaper – and say so in a letter to the editor.

The fundamental value of a local newspaper is that it covers local news, carries advertising with a local slant and comments on local issues. That’s a combination unavailable anywhere else.

Smart local newspapers, including The Oregonian, have established media partnerships with local TV stations and public broadcasting to share coverage and leverage the unique advantages and audiences of each channel. Little wonder there are former Oregonian reporters and editors working at Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Split-week home delivery, embarrassingly thin editions and all-to-frequent typos can cause consternation. People may disagree with editorial positions, dislike the mix of columnists and miss their favorite cartoon. Some of us wish there was more bandwidth to cover important stories that now go unreported. But online and on doorsteps, The Oregonian delivers a news package that no one else does.

That is not to slight the Portland TribuneWillamette WeekThe Skanner or Portland Mercury that add significantly to the mix and diversity of local news coverage, often by their own enterprise reporting, investigative journalism and unique perspective.

Democratic societies go hand-in-hand with the maxim that all politics is local. To sustain functional institutions, we need to know about local news., as well as national and regional news. And we need to know more than just “breaking news” and snarky exchanges on social media.

You may not know Mark Katches, but he deserves our collective thanks for doing his best to make sure local news coverage, warts and all, still exists in Portland.

Gary Conkling Image.jpg

Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Transitions and Passings

The first quarter of the year is barely over and already we’ve lost, or will soon see the departure, of memorable characters having a huge impact on the regional public-affairs world. We at CFM, as well as many working in the public policy realm, interacted with the following personalities. Three recently have died and one will retire after 40 years at the same job.

Mike Donahue to retire after 40 years with KOIN-TV

 If there is a favorite son in the Portland TV News world, it is Mike Donahue. He is retiring from the Portland CBS affiliate this spring after a 40-year-career.

KOIN TV News Director Brad Neuhoff watched and listened as the telephone calls rolled into the newsroom following the retirement announcement. Neuhoff told The Oregonian:  “I think it speaks not only to the kind of journalist Mike is, but also the person he is.”

Except for a few years in the U.S. Army, Donahue has worked at KOIN since 1968. It is a rare accomplishment for a TV reporter/anchor to stay at one station so long. He anchors the noon news show, but accomplished a legacy by anchoring the 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. news during parts of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. 

Donahue says he may have a continuing role at KOIN after he gives up his day job, 

Heart attack claims Bob Caldwell 

We simply knew him as Bob, one of the most affable editors ever to hold the job of editorial page editor at The Oregonian. Robert J. Caldwell died from a heart attack last month. 

Bob’s job was to guide editorial writers and help set the tone and position of the newspaper as it commented on key community issues and colorful personalities. Says CFM Partner Dave Fiskum, “He was one of the good guys in the editorial realm... always open to conversations about editorial policy.”

Ron Abell’s Complaint

Sometimes you get tagged with a persona you wish to avoid.

Ron Abell no doubt thought revitalizing the fictional James G. Blaine Society — a whimsical group protecting Oregon from Californians — was a good idea at the time. He didn’t invent the movement opposing the degradation of Oregon through the process of Californication, but he did become one of its faces in the 1960s, or so it seemed.

Among other platforms, the group advocated expelling non-native Oregon-born residents, or instituting a $5,000 immigration fee. The movement was named after one of the most famous 19th Century American politicians NEVER to have visited Oregon.

Blaine was a U.S. Representative, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, U.S. Senator from Maine, and two-time Secretary of State. He also was nominated for president in 1884, but was narrowly defeated by Democrat Grover Cleveland

In his own obituary, Ron Abell called resurrecting the Blaine Society a mistake, such were the passions, torments and laments of one of the truly entertaining and talented writers in Oregon during the past 50 years.

Ron held many journalistic jobs and accomplished much as a writer. He would probably argue about that. He took exception to many issues. I remember him expressing deep disappointment with President Obama’s performance when I last saw him at a lunch more than a year ago.