My last Behind the Scenes ran April 1 in the Hood River News, and it was a goodbye column.
So it’s a little overwhelming to be sitting here — not in the office, but rather at home, where I’ve been stationed since March 13 — writing a new column for a new paper.
Some background is in order. On Thursday, March 26 at around 4:30 p.m., right after the News and Chronicle put out our first-ever weekend edition, our two papers had a conference call with Publisher Chelsea Marr, in which we learned that Eagle was closing all of its publication holdings on Tuesday, March 31. Conference call because, thanks to COVID, most of us were working remotely from home.
But yes, you read that right. We got three business days’ notice that all of our sites would have a last publication date of April 1. It was Chelsea who had to tell us: No more Gorge news sites.
I mean, okay, it was jarring to realize that my nine years at the News were now at an abrupt end, but that did not bother me half as much as knowing that there was now NO newspaper left in the Gorge. I spent that entire weekend on my couch, mourning.
I grew up in Hood River, and my parents have always been News subscribers. My brothers and I were in the News plenty of times growing up: Sports, honor roll lists, school events, church news, awards. My husband, Eric, and my engagement and wedding announcements were published, as were birth notices for both of our girls. (I don’t want to brag, but I also made the front page of Enterprise in October or November 1981, just a couple months after my family moved to the Gorge. Fourth grade. Whitson Elementary playground, on the swings. “Just moved here and already in the paper!” I remember my dad saying proudly.)
That’s why it hit me so hard, the loss of the institutions that were the Gorge newspapers. The Hood River News was in its 114th year at the time of the closure. And now … it was just gone, practically overnight.
But here’s where our story takes a happy turn.
Staff learned March 30 — on deadline of what was supposed to be our last edition — that Chelsea had purchased of all five Gorge publications from Eagle, effectively saving us from closure. She felt that between the three sites, we had enough support to continue with a once a week, Gorge-wide newspaper. She offered to keep any staff who was willing to stick it out — because none of us knew how this was ultimately going to go.
Not everyone could stay for a variety of reasons, understandably. Those of us who did are either crazy or optimistic, or maybe both.
The closure and eventual merge were definitely changes that happened because of COVID-19. But we’re still here, thanks to the faith Chelsea has in our Gorge communities. We are working hard to make it a true community newspaper, with articles from White Salmon, Hood River and The Dalles … and Parkdale, Cascade Locks, Odell, Lyle, Glenwood, Dallesport, Dufur, Maupin and Sherman County.
I have heard more than once the rumor that Chelsea purchased the papers and broke everything by combining them. Having gone through the nightmare of being terminated over the phone along with the rest of my colleagues and our subsequent resurrection, I get a little … uh, irritated … that I have to explain that Chelsea, in fact, saved us. That the paper you are holding now would not exist had she not stepped up.
It’s been three months and it’s a work in progress. We just got gorgenews.com email addresses and are getting closer to having one website. The News and Chronicle offices will be moving; Chelsea is also working on securing a site in White Salmon or Bingen. None of us are fulltime yet; some of us are freelancing.
I know that the combined newspaper is different than what you are used to. It’s not what I’m used to, either. We are now covering five counties in a weekly paper. We try very hard to make sure we have front page stories from each of the three publications, but when it comes to things like letters to the editor or press releases, we can’t make people submit, just encourage.
Thank you for your continued support. Thank you for being graceful as we navigate this big change. Thank you for continuing to send us news tips, letters, press releases and columns. Thank you for helping us continue to bring local news to the Gorge.