View from Wenatchee

Wilfred Woods and his son and Rufus run a family-owned newspaper.  The banner of The Wenatchee World proudly proclaims that it is “Published in the Apple Capital of the World and the Buckle of the Power Belt of the Great Northwest.”  Since 1907, the Woods family has owned and operated the paper out of a brick building on North Mission Street in Wenatchee, WA.   Like lots of newspapers in this country, the World hovers between opportunity and a sea of trouble.

Circulation is holding steady at 17,000 readers.  That’s a significant drop from the 30,000 souls who once bought the paper.  Online readership is growing, Rufus says, and he’s trying to make that trend pay.  He has put in place a hard pay wall: if you want to read more than a couple of paragraphs of any article, you have to subscribe.  Many print analysts would say, that strategy won’t fly, because it will cut off The Wenatchee World from new readers who are not ready to pay.   

Father Wilfred jokes that he made a shrewd deal when he handed over control of the paper to his son Rufus in 1997, just before the Internet buzzsaw started to chew up the profits of traditional media.   Rufus Woods is convinced that the paper can survive.  But he’s not looking solely to a pay wall or a digital product for salvation.  He says, journalists need to be part of the communities they used to cover from the outside.   He’s starting to sponsor local events, not for the money, but as part of an effort to bolster the paper’s role in the community.   He says it’s not enough any more to stand apart and write stories about the divisions in this town.  The paper has to be part of the effort to heal those rifts.

I’m not sure how that strategy can work without compromising the objectivity good journalism rests upon.  But one thing I like about this family’s approach is that they are not complaining about the challenges they face, and they’re not whining about the end of journalism.”  They are experimenting, ducking punches and taking a few as they try to keep this family paper in the fight.

J Dean Larry Abramson

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