This past week marks my first year anniversary of ownership of the Polk County Itemizer-Observer, and boy what a year it has been!

At this time last year, we were in a complete shutdown due to COVID-19. No one really knew what to expect and many questioned whether things would ever be the same again.

In February 2020, I was contacted by Eagle Newspaper to see if I would be interested in purchasing the Itemizer-Observer. I really hadn’t thought about purchasing another newspaper, as I had decided to get out of newspaper ownership a year earlier. But I saw this as a unique opportunity, having grown up in Salem and being familiar with the area. So my wife and I began doing our due diligence to see if we could make this happen.

Then it was announced that almost everything was shutting down in March 2020 due to COVID-19. Eagle Newspapers then informed us that they would be closing the Itemizer-Observer and their newspapers in the Columbia Gorge effective April 1st. We had to make the decision to either move forward with purchasing the newspaper, or let one of the oldest newspapers in the state of Oregon cease publication. Needless to say, we decided to move forward and keep the I-O alive.

Our next challenge came on March 31, 2020, when my wife, Jeanne, and I came to the I-O to meet the staff. We were under the impression that almost everyone on staff would be retained. However, we were met with a great deal of skepticism, and some of the employees decided not to stay. In fact, we left our meeting that day thinking we would be the only ones left at the newspaper to keep the ship afloat.

Within the next day or so, we were ecstatic when three of the reporters decided to stay on board. Then I was able to hire an advertising salesman who had been laid off, and things started looking much brighter. Over the course of time, I was able to hire a great office manager and bring back a former advertising sales person. We were also fortunate to have support from amazing people who believe in their community and know the importance of local, independent news. The pieces were beginning to fall into place.

The other major challenge we encountered when taking over the I-O was the lack of advertising. We were fortunate enough to take over during “budget time” for many government entities. This helped provide us with some consistent revenue. While our display advertising on the other hand was hard hit by business shutdowns, there were local businesses that understood the importance of advertising in a community paper. They continued to advertise and we appreciate them. We were also fortunate to have a supportive subscriber base that helped us make it through a very challenging time.

For about three to four months I also worked on unraveling Eagle Newspapers’ corporate web of integrated systems that they used to support their newspapers. There were many challenges of converting how things had been done within their corporate system to how I could operate on a much smaller scale. I kept telling myself, “take it one day at a time, one change at a time.” Eventually things did get changed and we, as a staff, figured things out. There are still challenges ahead, but they aren’t as daunting as they once were.

Yet another obstacle I had to encounter as a new business owner in town during the COVID-19 pandemic, was the inability to socially network with business owners and people in the community. Much of my contact with people was either over the phone, or people coming in the office to renew their subscriptions or pay their bills. So many of the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet have been supportive of what we are doing. It’s just been difficult to try to build relationships within the community when you are stuck doing Zoom meetings.

One person who has become one of our greatest supporters during this time has been Anne Scheck of Trammart News in Independence. Anne has been a wonderful resource, and has helped garner many new subscribers to the newspaper. She also provides wonderfully written stories to the I-O on a consistent basis. It’s so great to have a person like Anne in the community who is dedicated to informing people of what is happening in government and their local community.

To me, this past year has been an amazing ride. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful staff who gets along and enjoys their roles. I’ve been able to get to know some people in the community through limited contact. And I’m extremely grateful that businesses in Polk County support the I-O and the products that we produce throughout the year.

I’m a person who truly respects the history of what the I-O means to the people of Polk County. I love the fact that, with the community’s support, I’ve been able to keep this newspaper alive after 146 years. Although there have been many challenges this past year, I have no regrets and look forward to continue serving the community.

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