That is Willamette week‘s annual letter to the editor.
It’s an opportunity to talk about the journalism that drives everyone who works here; to let you know how we are doing as a company; and to update you on internal developments in our operations – additional reasons for optimism.
Like two years ago ww‘s annual report to readers is a week later than usual. (We’re already in the second week of our 49th newspaper year.) That was the case two years ago, when I couldn’t imagine putting our year in context without knowing election results like I can now.
At press time, major races across the country have yet to be decided. But despite major concerns ahead of last Tuesday’s election, it appears democracy has held and Donald Trump’s influence is waning. I join many Oregon residents in hoping that everyone is ready to move on – so we can address the real and very challenging issues facing the city and state we love.
With that in mind, here is our annual report. As has probably been the case for many of you, this has been a year of adjustment.
ww s finances
We are a smaller company than before COVID. That means 2022 was a year of rebuilding.
We rely on three sources of income – advertising, readers and events.
The ad business has been thrashed during the pandemic. A lot of wwAd revenue comes from event-based companies, and they’re only now coming back. Hence our reduced number of pages in recent years.
Additionally, prior to COVID, we published several magazines each year, generating approximately 15% of our annual revenue. We shut down this part of our business (mostly) in 2020 and 2021. This year we have published three magazines including Nester (a home design guide) and Winter Guide, which will be out next month. With any luck, there will be more ad support for more magazines – and more pages of them ww– in 2023.
“What about political advertising?” you may ask. After all, more than $100 million was spent on this type of messaging in Oregon in 2020. ww (and most newspapers) don’t benefit at all from this torrent of advertising money. This is largely because you, our readers, are not viewed as “poorly informed” voters – who are the primary target market for most political campaigns.
• Reader Revenue
Three years ago we did not ask for your support. Honestly, we didn’t know how you would react to such a request, especially if we kept all our offerings free.
Her response was both heartwarming and important: Friends of Willamette Week support, which did not exist three years ago, now provides nearly 20% of our funding. FOWW, as we call it, has grown to more than 8,000 members and will continue to be a vital source of support for our journalism. Hence this plug: Please, if you’re not already a friend, become one today. To do this, go here.
wwThe live events of have been completely halted during the pandemic. Just over the past year have we been able to begin their revival, starting with the Oregon Beer Awards, Funniest Five and Candidates Gone Wild held just before the election last month. Some of our larger events, like TechfestNW, are on pause as the economy is shaken.
• The big picture
Everything said, ww revenues for 2022 are expected to be 9% higher than 2021. Of course, expenses have also increased, but with your continued support and the possibility of a revival in the advertising market, we look forward to the year ahead with real optimism.
Doing good is an important addition to any journalistic work. Therefore only a few Willamette weekWe’re prouder of the many activities of than we are of Give!Guide – our nationally recognized year-end campaign to support local charities. Led by founder (and my business partner) Richard Meeker and CEO Toni Tringolo, Give!Guide hopes to raise more than $8 million for 235 local nonprofits from more than 17,000 of you before midnight on December 31st. Please visit giveguide.org and break out your credit card. And don’t miss out on our Big Give Days, which offer huge incentives to get you to donate.
Last but not least: our journalism
This shouldn’t come as a surprise: ww is a mission-driven company. Everyone who works here believes in the vitality of truly local and independent journalism. We don’t all share the same political views or attitudes about our city, but we do share a deep belief that without independent, intelligent, fearless journalism that is as committed to the community it covers as ours, there simply is no democracy can reader.
Here’s a little additional context: For much of the media world, 2022 was a year of sustained retreat for journalism. At least two counties in Oregon now have no newspaper reporters tracking local government. Closer to home, local journalism is hot on their heels. That Portland Grandstand recently announced it was ending free newspaper delivery. The New York owners of The Oregonianone of the nation’s largest publishers, recently announced plans to completely stop printing Alabama’s three largest newspapers in 2023. The inevitable question is when Portland will follow suit.
Also, Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that is now the second largest newspaper owner in the country, announced its 200 newspapers last month – including the ChicagoTribune and The Denver Post– will no longer vote in statewide and national races due to their expense and division.
ww is hardly an economic juggernaut. At the same time, we certainly zigzag while others in our industry falter. This year we were able to increase our reach on social media. We’ve expanded the audience for our Daily Primer newsletter, which is now published six mornings a week. Meanwhile, our print audience remained stable, so that ww remains the most widely read print publication within Portland city limits.
Most importantly, this year our news team has paid special attention to the challenging conditions affecting our city and state.
• City Hall reporter Sophie Peel examined the causes and effects of a hollowed-out downtown area – and how conditions in the surrounding homeless camps made the county’s health workers afraid to go to their Old Town clinics to work. Four months later, she broke the news that three downtown hotels — including the flagship Hilton — were on the verge of foreclosure while officials resisted asking workers to return to their cabins at City Hall.
• We reported on the neglect of Portland’s shared spaces and open-air drug market, and shootings around Dawson Park. This eventually caught the attention of the city government.
• Our newsroom began answering weekly inquiries from readers as to why properties in otherwise thriving neighborhoods were sitting empty. This Chasing Ghosts series was by far our most popular feature in 2022 – and will continue into 2023. Now some of these buildings are attracting renewed developer interest.
• When Portland returned to social activities after a two-year hiatus, ww created detailed travel, drinking and dining guides. Most groundbreaking: a guide to “perfect food days,” from breakfast to dinner, in neighborhoods across the city—including downtown!
• Reporter Nigel Jaquiss completed a two-year film project with Portland documentary director Irene Taylor about sexual abuse at the Boys Scouts of America. The film, Leave no tracestreams on Hulu and is a 2023 finalist for a DuPont Award, one of the highest honors in documentary journalism.
• Of course, our staff spent much of 2022 on election coverage, which included profiles of all three gubernatorial candidates, regular monitoring of the money flowing into politics, and 50 hours of tough and intelligent interviews with candidates and those fighting for and against Voting actions and our endorsements themselves.
Our team is really looking forward to continuing to cover Portland in the coming year as charter form begins to take shape while the city grapples with decisions that will have a tremendous impact on the health and quality of life of this region.
All at ww understands how fortunate we are to work in a city that appreciates more than most that democracy will not survive without robust, fearless and caring local journalism.
With this in mind, I am pleased to announce that two important promotions will take place from the beginning of the year. Together they will make our company a smarter and more relevant news company.
• Anna Zusman becomes editor.
• Aaron Mesh becomes Managing Editor, responsible for the entire newsroom.
Together, Anna and Aaron have a combined 21 years of experience at ww– and understand the challenges and opportunities we face and the importance of ww to our community.
Me? My focus will return to the newsroom and Friends of Willamette Week. I hope to increase support for new initiatives in local journalism.
We appreciate your support and active involvement in our journalism. Together with you all, we hope that the coming year will begin the healing and rebirth of this beautiful city we all call home.
Mark Zusman, editor and publisher