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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Deal in Portland

"More than a city newspaper ...
at the height of its power and prestige."

New Northwest Territory

Time Magazine, Dec. 18, 1950

Every quarter-century since 1850, the owners of the Portland Oregonian (circ. 219,442) have marked the anniversary of its founding with long histories of the paper and nostalgic backward looks at the growth of the Northwest. Though the Oregonian and its surroundings changed greatly through the years, its ownership did not. It stayed in the hands of descendants of early (1860) Owner Henry Lewis Pittock and his longtime editor, Harvey Whitefield Scott.

Last week, as the Oregonian celebrated its 100th anniversary, it was the owners' turn to change. For more than $5,000,000 in cash, they sold all their stock to short (5 ft. 3 in.) Samuel I. Newhouse, 55, able owner of the Harrisburg (Pa.) News (circ. 85,363) and Patriot (circ. 31,249), the Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald-Journal (circ. 126,179) and Post-Standard (circ. 77,970) and a string of five other Eastern dailies. Said Newhouse happily: "Most of my papers were sick when I got them. The Oregonian is the first that is at the height of its power and prestige."

Growing Pains. Proprietor Newhouse's happy cry was no exaggeration. The oldest West Coast paper in continuous publication, the Oregonian, first printed as a weekly, grew up with the Northwest - and helped it grow by leading the campaigns for better schools and colleges and new industries. Though generally Republican from the days of Lincoln, the Oregonian has never stuck to a straight party line, has fought for such Democratic measures as federal aid to education, opposed such things as the Brannan Plan.

In 1940 it won the University of Missouri's "distinguished newspaper" award as "more than a city newspaper - a tradition in the Northwest and a part of the life of the region." As a regional paper, much of the Oregonian's circulation was outside Portland proper until a few years ago. Then it started an early city edition, soon passed the rival Journal in circulation. In 1948 the prosperous Oregonian moved into a new $3,500,000 plant.

The Boss Wasn't Interested. Sam Newhouse plans to make few changes in the paper. Ernest Boyd MacNaughton, liberal president of Portland's Reed College (TIME, May 3, 1948) as well as chairman of the board of Portland's First National Bank, will stay on as president. The editorial staff will be virtually unchanged. As is his custom, Democrat Newhouse will keep his distance from most editorial decisions (most of his papers are independent Republican), but will keep close tabs on everything else as he does on his other papers.

Newhouse broke into journalism in 1912 while he was a $2-a-week clerk for the receiver for New Jersey's bankrupt Bayonne Times. Because the receiver was not interested in the job, Newhouse was made publisher of the paper at 18. Within a year, he pulled the Times out of the red. After that, Newhouse bought other floundering papers in the New York area, including the Staten Island Advance, the Long Island Press and Star-Journal, and the Newark Star-Ledger. Newhouse hired better staffs, cut costs, built up a combined circulation of 580,000 (v. 109,000 before he took over) and put the papers into the black.

The purchase of the Oregonian by Sam Newhouse, his first buy west of the Alleghenies, started talk that he is trying to link together a nationwide chain. Says he noncommittally: "That would be a pretty ambitious operation." But newsmen thought Sam Newhouse looked like a mighty ambitious man.

Part 1 in a series: Newhouse profits & power - How the West was Won

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