Finally! A Newspaper War!
Steve Duin has called out Robert Pamplin, declaring him - in effect - a lying sack of gravel. Here's the key quote: "For years now, two mayors and a lot of citizens with an interest in the Willamette River have assumed Pamplin was a man of his word. It appears they misjudged him."
This is the break the Portland Tribune was looking for, if they just seize it. First some background: When I began my short tumultuous career as a Trib columnist, I thought it would be like "Front Page" with Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau. I thought the only way the Tribune could matter is by being fiery and a must-read from Day 1. I was told Robert Pamplin's son Bob founded the paper partly in response to his family's treatment by the Oregonian and I saw a newspaper war as a guaranteed way of making the Trib thrive. I jokingly suggested that the first headline should be "The Oregonian Sucks!" and the second headline should be, "No, Really! The Oregonian Sucks!"
Instead, they decided to play it safe - as if the paper were required reading. Their model seemed to be, "This gig is wired. We don't have to make money because Pamplin is willing to lose millions every year." There were no free market forces at work. Instead of being bold, the Trib, got fluffy. The only thing that was more fluffy was the big piles of money heading down the drain. I don't know how much they're making or losing now, but I would guess they're still in the red. And it's their own damn fault for being so meek. They could have had the Goldschmidt story - they could have had a Pulitzer by now.
The Willamette Week would take a shot at the Trib, and I'd ask to fire back. No, don't bother. We're way too genteel for all that. We don't want to stir up interest. Fortunately, I wrote two columns opposing the Iraq War and I was fired. That has become a real point of pride, although I'd enjoy it much more if so many American soldiers weren't being maimed and killed.
Sigh. I now see the Trib as a stepping stone - a place for me to learn more about writing while I waited for a dream gig like the Portland Freelancer blog to come along. Sometimes it's not about the money. I've got clients who pay me money for my jokes. This is about the ability to write without a bunch of substance filters in my head.
But oh, what fun we could have had, and oh, what might have been. Forget the people who used to work there. What exciting media Portland could have had with this. The people would have run to those green boxes to find out what came next. The low point for me was later, during a particularly active news week locally, when the Trib had a story about police horses, complete with a front page picture of a police horse eating some blossoms off a tree. Way to hit hard.
Now, it looks like Dwight Jaynes and the gang are going to have to do what they should have done from Day #1: Go after the Big Daily. Calling the Trib owner's Dad out has seen to that.
Up till now, the Oregonian has avoided any mention of the Trib except when it was absolutely necessary, and that was smart. The Willamette Week foolishly began following it from the beginning, although I think that's died way down. I hear rumors of another cover story, like the one that had Pamplin, Jr. on the cover before the Trib started, which would be great news for the Portland Tribune. Anything to raise the profile and let the relative newcomer more into the game.
That's what was wrong. The Trib's stance was always one of a frontrunner in a campaign who declines to debate the candidate who's way behind. Meanwhile, they were the ones way behind, and they still are. It didn't have to be like that, and if the money wasn't guaranteed they would have jumped in and started competing for real. Out with the fluff and in with the hard-hitting news. If you have a disadvantage with the news cycle because you only print twice a week, rely on your columnists. Don't fire them. Let them go off! Trib managers spent way too much time and money hedging their bets.
How crazy was it? They wouldn't let me use lines, so I would sell them to Leno and they'd be reprinted in the Oregonian. I was supposed to be competing against the Oregonian columnists and my stuff was in their paper. It was the definition of crazy. The columns needed to be big and they reigned me in. The columns should have been explosive and in your face like...well, like Steve Duin's this morning.
That's why Steve Duin's column today is so classic. He doesn't mention the Tribune of course - that's standard - but he calls out Bob Pamplin's Dad in no uncertain terms. He wrote this column like he was working for a paper that was way behind and felt it had to stir things up. That's why it's a potential opening. Now all we need is for the Tribune to strap on a pair and defend their owner's father. If they don't do that, no amount of fluff can save them.
The first of many broken promises