When Heidi Wright called me June 3 to suggest that our company should take a look at bidding on Bend’s daily newspaper, The Bulletin, I was at once startled, skeptical and intrigued.
We hired Heidi as our chief operating officer in June 2017 — away from The Bulletin, where she had been the chief financial officer of its parent company, Western Communications. At that point, we had just bid on two other newspapers out of Wescom’s bankruptcy in Baker City and La Grande.
Pursuing the Bulletin prospect, the board of EO Media Group convened two impromptu meetings. For the first of these sessions, at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, we invited Daily Astorian Publisher Kari Borgen, who had also worked within Western Communications. Asked what she thought of the opportunity, Kari said: “It’s exciting and it’s scary.” That typified our deliberations, during which we probed the risks and assessed the promise.
My daughter, Susan Forrester Rana, flew up from Oakland for our second board meeting, during which we set our top bid for The Bulletin. By this time my cousin, Kathryn Brown, had made contact with a longtime family associate who is an executive of the Bank of Eastern Oregon. In addition to that bank financing, Heidi was speaking with prospective investors in Bend who were eager to have our pursuit of ownership succeed.
The auction on July 29 occurred in the office of the Portland law firm Tonkon Torp. Our group — including my cousin Kathryn, Heidi and our CFO Rick Hansen and our lawyers — were placed in one room while the three-man team from Adams Publishing Group was in another. Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers, the party that made the initial bid on The Bulletin, did not show up for the auction. To honor our family’s ambitions and the gravity of the moment, Kathryn wore a Pendleton jacket that had belonged to my mother, Eleanor.
At 10 a.m. we moved to another conference room — the bidding site. When the Adams trio entered, we stood to greet them. Mark Adams, the company’s CEO, sat two seats away from me; Heidi was to my left. In a thrilling auction that would last 15 minutes, Adams would be their bidder, Heidi ours.
The bidding requirement was to raise by minimum increments of $50,000, beginning at $2,550,000. After the initial round of bidding drove the price to $3,050,000, the Adams group left the room to confer privately. There was a second conference at the $3,450,000 mark, after which Mark Adams jumped the bid to $3.6 million. Heidi hesitated for what seemed to me 20 seconds. But Rick clocked it at 15 seconds. Even though we were below our ceiling, her hesitation seemed an eternity. Instead of raising our bid, Mark Adams graciously congratulated us on our acquisition.
In taking ownership of The Bulletin, our company is not simply buying another property. It is taking hold of a journalistic opportunity that will become immensely significant to all of Oregon. With the decline of formerly influential daily newspapers such as The Register-Guard of Eugene and others, The Bulletin will become a beacon in a part of Oregon that is gaining economic, cultural and political significance. The Bulletin will become a heavyweight partner for our Eastern Oregon newspapers in Umatilla, Union, Baker, Wallowa and Grant counties — and for our papers on the Oregon and Washington coast and the Capital Press as well.
Our newspaper group fosters a culture of collaboration. That has allowed us to punch well above our weight. In collaboration with the Pamplin Media Group, we have formed a statehouse bureau that reverses the decline in coverage of the Oregon Legislature and state agencies. In 2006 our papers collaborated on a series of articles about climate change. In addition to pieces that were informed by science, each newspaper developed cameos of scientists, naturalists, farmers and fishers who spoke about what they were noticing in their region’s natural environment. That series won an award of Special Merit in the national Grantham Prize competition.
The environment and climate change are the primary issues of the 21st century. Our series — 12 years old — is ripe for an update. And The Bulletin’s participation in such a venture would give a new series even more impact.