How much longer can this go on before local newspapers have to simply say they’re no longer providing anything resembling meaningful news coverage? They’re not there yet, and hats off to those in the newsrooms struggling to do the job. But be clear: The job cutbacks are cuts to the core; whatever fat there was, was dispensed with long ago.

Today’s news is impending job cuts at three McClatchy newspapers in Washington, the Tacoma News Tribune, the Olympian and the Tri-City Herald. At all three, most newsroom employees are being offered buyout options. That doesn’t mean most will be leaving, but word is that if enough don’t, substantial layoffs will be next. The size of the newsrooms cuts expected isn’t made clear – an ominous thought all by itself.

At Olympia, Publisher John Winn Miller was reported as saying “he thinks The Olympian, which has 180 full- and part-time workers, will survive as an independent news voice in the state capital.”

Note the language: He thinks it will survive.

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What was that old line or political counsel (applicable elsewhere too), that when you’re in a hole, stop digging?

A rather deep hole is what Oregon 5th District Republican candidate Mike Erickson was in even before this weekend’s Oregonian account of his travels to Cuba. (Description from Jeff Mapes’ blog: “The problem for Erickson is that the trip’s itinerary was heavy on cigar dinners and other pleasure activities (cock fighting was even offered as an option) and silent on anything of a humanitarian nature.”) He’d have done about as well as he could it he’d delivered a quick dismissive line and let it go.

But no. Check out this for viewing a political mistake in motion.

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Since last Sunday, RP has been getting an up-close and personal experience with health care delivery in Oregon. Our conclusion: From the 911 call, to the EMTs, the ambulance service, emergency room staff, and the ICU personnel, we’ve experienced efficiency, courtesy, professionalism, and knowledge that goes way beyond just competence.

We’ve also learned a lot about the inner workings of our lungs as the doctors searched for the blood clots that caused a pulmonary embolism. So until the clots are dissolved and we’re back home — which we anticipate will be in a few days — they don’t have online connections in the hospital for patients (maybe not such a bad thing…) and posting will be a little bit slow.

Best wishes to all of our readers; we look forward to returning shortly.

-rs

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Afine catch by the excellent Idaho Radio News blog, on what executives of two major Northwest daily newpapers had to say after news last week that the corporation which owns them both, the McClatchy Company, had marked its papers for major cutbacks.

Tri-City Herald editor Rufus M. Friday: “We have more readers today than ever before — for our newspaper, our website and our specialty products. That’s our most important measure of success for the future.”

Boise Idaho Statesman editor Mi-Ai Parrish: “We have more readers today than ever before – for our newspaper, our Web site and our niche products. That’s our most important measure of success for the future.”

As a commenter noted dryly, “Complete coincidence.”

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Is the Washington governor’s race a big deal? Of course. Is it competitive? The polling generally indicates as much, and – this is a reasonable indicator – both Democratic incumbent Chris Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi are raising piles of money, what could amount to somewhere around $20 million between them by the time it’s over.

But we’ve not felt for a long time that this is an evenly-balanced playing field. Some comments from Goldy at Horse’s Ass outline some (and there are others too) of the pertinent reasons why.

The big difference, in my opinion, will be the lessons learned from 2004, a race in which an overconfident Gregoire allowed Rossi to get away with running as an amiable tabla rasa, on to which voters could project a fanciful image of the Rossi they’d like him to be.

First rule of political campaigning: . . . define your opponent. And you can be damn sure that a substantial chunk of Gregoire’s (and her surrogates’) war chest will be spent doing exactly that. Rossi is simply too conservative for WA state, on both social and economic issues, and this time around he’s not going to get away with refusing to talk about issues that don’t poll well for his campaign. There are also character issues regarding Rossi — his dubious business ethics and his documented reputation as a downright mean spirited campaigner — and in 2008, voters are going to be informed of that too.

Since Rossi’s near miss in 2004, David Irons, George Nethercutt and Mike!™ McGavick have all tried to duplicate the Rossi model — a low-key, likable, issue-less run toward the middle — and all with disastrous results. That strategy simply won’t play here anymore… at least not if your Democratic opponent is awake.

Without here passing judgement on the validity of each of the arguments against Rossi, we don’t have a lot of doubt that they’ll be made. And the point about Irons, Nethercutt and McGavick ought to be food for mulling.

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Those hard-hit Oregon counties that have been slicing into the bone because of loss of federal timber funds – some of these places even harder-hit with the recent storms – may have a little hope.

Congressional leadership has worked out a deal for continuing funding of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, a package worth $1.8 billion, of which a big chunk – close to half – would go to Oregon. To some of the currently neediest parts of Oregon.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who worked on it, said, “Today’s announcement will mean nearly $740 million for Oregon schools, public safety, roads, and other essential county services. More importantly, this deal gets these counties off of the fiscal roller-coaster and back to stable funding so that they can focus on the real work of planning for the future.”

Sounds good, if it materializes. There’s also word that the bill may be vetoed by President Bush.

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Of some note as an indicator, this (self-selecting, to be sure) online poll in the Coeur d’Alene Press. It could be worth consideration as policymakers in the region consider what the traffic will bear in tax and bond proposals.

The question: “If the election were today, would you support a $14 million bond issue for a convention and events center at the Kootenai County Fairgrounds?”

As of a check early this afternoon, 1,080 people had voted, and 73.9% of them were opposed. Bond proposals take a 2/3 favorable vote to pass.

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Five months ago we quoted a stock site called Seeking Alpha as suggesting this: “A company with Micron’s assets, potential, and joint ventures could definitely be a very attractive takeover target for private equity. A leveraged buyout may not be too far off in the distance.” And we indicated we thought the site was correct: Micron would be an attractive takeover target.

In today’s Idaho Statesman: “Speculation is again swirling that Micron Technology could be bought by a private equity firm. A surge in contracts to buy Micron call options late Thursday and Friday led some analysts to speculate that private equity firms were again looking at the Boise-based semiconductor company.”

Keep watch.

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Something about the web – maybe the solitary nature of posting to it – seems to suggest the idea of private communication. It isn’t. It’s more public and out there in the world than any newspaper or television station, no matter that you may not have intended it that way. That’s a lesson for myspace teenagers and facebook college students. Not to mention politicians.

Many commenters on political sites, this one included, regularly use pseudonyms. (This site, like many, prefers real names but allows pseudonyms.) Commenters probably think this means they’re anonymous; but not always. The lesson being, don’t post what you aren’t comfortable standing behind.

Story in point is recounted on David Postman’s blog. It stems from a discussion on Sound Politics, where blogger Stefan Sharkansky was writing about the rules concerning petition signature gathering for initiatives. (The details are another issue.) Comments to his post included at least three snarky takes from “PDC expert,” saying “Stefan – your ignorance is stunning,” “[Tim] Eyman is a liar and the sheep on this blog will believe any lie he tells them,” and so forth.

Which might have been that, except that Sharkansky decided to track down the commenter. Using the comment’s home IP address, and traced it to the city of Kent. An information request tracked it directly back to state Representative Geoffrey Simpson, D-Covington, who acknowledged the comments were his.

He replied to Sharkansky in a subsequent comment: “Interesting that when Stefan doesn’t like something someone says (even when they are correct as I was in each of my posts) he investigates them and violates the personal privacy afforded to all the posters on this blog by the ability to post anonymously. Poor baby. Make sure you don’t disagree with Stefan or he’ll open an investigation on you too.”

None of which happened at Simpson’s peak moment. He’s lead sponsor of the NASCAR legislation (House Bill 2062) which appears set for crash and burn. That led another Sound Politics commenter to add, “I was down in Olympia trying to fight the NASCAR track that he is trying to force on my damn town of Bremerton. Good old Geoff Simpson wrote HB 2062. It is a freaking horrible piece of corporate pork and is a waste of our taxes and undermines a communities local control.” This latest uproar isn’t going to help his efforts to pass the bill.

Well. Point being that if you’re a public official, best to assume anything you say will find its way out. However you may try to cover it.

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Times are moving on, as the latest newspaper in the Tri-Cities – and it does qualify as a newspaper, as a print edition is available – is underway primarily as a (daily) on-line publication. Its editor and publisher, Ken Harvey, argues that “We don’t ever anticipate becoming daily in print because we believe technology will soon do away with most printed publications.”

The local blog McCranium wonders, reasonably, if that doesn’t make it mainly a blog with a newspaper attached. And it makes the point that this newspaper arrives with a clear ideological pitch, which it does.

The Tri-City Citizen describes itself as “a locally owned weekly printed (40,000 copies per edition) and daily online newspaper reflecting a ‘progressively-conservative and family oriented’ perspective on our local community.” More simply, and put in the current usual usage, it’s a conservative paper (a quick look through home page headlines should make the point). The Herald is semi-centrist in its editorial stances, probably to the right of most fellow McClatchy papers, but well to the left of where it was when locally owned years ago, and probably left as well of many Tri-Citians.

The Citizen is also an outgrowth of the recent Tri-City Republic paper: “Many of the Citizen’s staff members had tried to provide such an alternative as members of the Tri-Cities Republic staff. Harvey says that, when it became clear the Republic lacked the financial support and business acumen needed to effectively compete with the Herald, most of the staff resigned and formed the team that has launched the new Tri-City Citizen. The Republic has since announced that it is ceasing publication.”

We’re skeptical of the business model, having seen so many other web efforts fail to pencil out. But we’ll keep a watch.

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