Selling the Fourth Estate

I think I was as shocked as everyone else in the community when I learned last week that the owners of the Democrat-Herald eliminated long-time editor Hasso Hering’s position as a way to save money.  Hasso has been editor for about 35 years and is widely respected locally and around the state.  A number of my columns over the past seven years have either directly or indirectly responded to Hasso’s observations.

 Newspapers are a business, and Hasso is not the first good person to lose his job at the DH as Lee Enterprises, its parent company, has tried to cut expenses.  There are fewer reporters and employees now than there were just a few years ago.  Hasso explained in a talk to a local service club this week that newspapers are competing against many more information sources and that a large number of the advertising sales which have traditionally supported printed papers have gone to other media.

My problem with the corporate approach to this issue is the willingness to sacrifice quality in an effort to improve profitability.  I really disagreed with many of Hasso’s editorials, but I greatly appreciated his knowledge of local government and his ability to generally discern when the City was making a mistake or doing something genuinely good for the community.  Hasso understands issues like urban renewal or Oregon’s incredibly complex public finance system, and I am skeptical that whoever replaces him will have similar knowledge.  Just as the reduced number of reporters has affected the size and scope of the DH, Hasso’s departure will affect its ability to provide accurate information and insight about local government to its readers.  The City may be the biggest loser in this transaction.

It may seem strange that a city manager would complain about the dismissal of a newspaper editor who often writes about the failings of city government or government in general.  I can recall a few occasions when the thought of Hasso retiring to a nice beach in Hawaii would have seemed appealing, but those were short-lived and not reflective of my general certainty that he really cares about this community and has made countless contributions to improving it. 

Mostly, I will miss Hasso’s accessibility, sense of humor, and willingness to listen to my point of view.  He is a community leader who never turned down a request to talk to a civic group, sat through an endless number of meetings, made himself available to anyone who wanted to talk to him, and passed along the benefit of his experience to several generations of younger journalists.  I wish him well in the future and would add my thanks to the chorus he is deservedly hearing from the community he has served well for so many years.