The Oregonian Is A Valuable Brand Asset, But Its New York Owners Have Other Ideas

The newspaper business fascinates me. Like advertising, it’s a place for rogues. And like advertising the industry is rapidly morphing into something hardly recognizable to its senior practitioners.

Change is natural, of course, but change is not always good. According to Columbia Journalism Review, “The Oregonian is about to get Newhouse’d.”

The Times Picayune company yielded to NOLA Media Group (and Advance Central Services). The Plain Dealer shifted focus to digital, cut publication/delivery, and added Northeast Ohio Media Group. Advance’s Alabama papers became Alabama Media Group. All more or less followed the same template: gutted newsrooms, reduced publication, and a turn to the hamster-wheel model of digital journalism.

Now Portland’s Willamette Week reports that The Oregonian’s holding company has filed to trademark the name Oregonian Media Group.

The Newhouse family owns Condé Nast — publisher of Vanity Fair, Vogue, Wired and many other top shelf magazines. The family is also in the newspaper business. In 1950, Advance Publications founder S. I. Newhouse purchased The Oregonian for $5.6 million.

Like all newspaper owners today, the Newhouse family is scrambling for answers to tough economic problems. Their failure to find them is becoming a real problem for the company, and its newsroom staffers.

Oddly, for a company leaning towards digital (over print), Advance’s corporate site looks like something right out of 1994. I don’t see this as a minimalist approach, I see it as lazy and uncaring.

Advance Publications Inc.

Regardless, what the hell is Advance’s leadership doing to its newspapers brands? Advance is taking historic newspaper brands — which “belong” the the city, as much as anyone — and corporatizing them in a weak bow to digital. The strategy is flawed in so many ways. For instance, The Oregonian is one of the most recognizable and powerful brands in the state, along with Nike, Intel, The Ducks and so on. Yet, to read “the paper” online, you must go to OregonLive.com.

I’m not against sub-brands or offshoots, but the digital version of The Oregonian, from a brand perspective, is The Oregonian, not Oregon Live. And “Oregon Live” as a two-word combo packs no punch. It’s lightweight, frivolous. The Oregonian, by comparison (like the other legendary newspapers owned by the Newhouse family) has history, believability and the community on its side.

[UPDATE 10:48 a.m.] Here’s the official announcement, just released from The Oregonian: The Oregonian will continue to be published daily and sold at outlets in the Portland metropolitan area and elsewhere in the state and southwestern Washington. Home delivery will be Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, and include the Saturday edition as a bonus.

Previously on AdPulp: Will The Newspaper Industry Save Itself By Reinventing Online Advertising?

About David Burn

Fired up to write it down. Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. Chief storyteller at Bonehook, a guide service and bait shop for brands.