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Friday, December 1, 2006

Portland 1950, part 3

The Oregonion presents, in 3 parts, Chapter 20 of "Newspaperman: S. I. Newhouse and the Business of News", by Richard H. Meeker © 1983. Meeker is publisher of Portland's Willamette Week.

Chapter 20 - Portland (part 3)
A reputation with organized labor

Coming up with the money was the easy part. Far more difficult was the sixteen-hour plane ride to Portland to make a final inspection. Newhouse always found long trips difficult, but airplanes posed a special problem, for he tended to be airsick in the slightest turbulence. Traveling to and from Portland, unless he was to spend a whole week on board a train, required flying.

The day he went, a major storm covered the Pacific Northwest and forced his plane back to Boise, Idaho. "This storm is terrible," Newhouse told MacNaughton from a phone booth at the airport. "I've had enough. I'm taking the next plane east." MacNaughton, worried that the deal might be becoming unraveled, reminded him that doing so would only mean bouncing around in more bad weather. Besides, Newhouse had traveled most of the way already. Why not continue on to Portland, through the clear skies that were forecast for Idaho and Oregon the next day? He relented.

Upon his arrival, he was given a tour, first of the downtown business district, which met all his expectations, and then of the Oregonian's new plant. The circumstances of the latter tour, however, struck MacNaughton as quite odd. He recalled Newhouse saying that because of his reputation with organized labor, he was worried that he might be recognized there, and insisting that the postpone the inspection until about eight o’clock that evening when the building would be relatively empty. Newhouse also proposed to MacNaughton that they sneak in through a side door. When he has seen the place at last, all he could say was, "It’s three times too big."

The next day's long flight back to New York as another bother, and as soon as he got home, S.I. asked Ted if he would make a trip to Oregon. Ted, who had none of S.I.'s aversion to flying, left on Thanksgiving Day, arriving Portland the next morning, in time for the city's annual Fairy Tale parade. He, too, was given a walking tour of downtown and a brisk run through the Oregonian building before returning to New York. Back home, he assured his brother that he would be glad to fly to Portland once a month to report on how things were going out on the West Coast. With that final obstacle cleared, Newhouse could go ahead with the purchase.

In the meantime, it was a greed that he would delay announcing his latest acquisition until after 4 December, when the Oregonian planned to print a special edition commemorating its one-hundredth anniversary. The deal was kept so quiet that on the day the paper celebrated its pioneer roots with a host of articles about what it called "The Oregonian Century," only publisher Mike Frey among the regular staff knew that in less than a week an obscure New York publisher would remove the Oregonian from local hands for good.

Buying the Oregonian made Newhouse a national figure almost overnight. No longer would reports of this newspapers' exploits be confined to the back pages of trade journals like Editor & Publisher and Advertising Age. On Sunday, 10 December 1950, his purchase of the Oregonian was reported by Walter Winchell on his immensely popular radio program. The following day, he was mentioned prominently in newspapers all over the country, including the New York Times, and later in the week, both Time and Newsweek covered the deal. Everywhere it was noted that S.I. Newhouse had just consummated the largest single transaction in American newspaper history.

For Newhouse, there was much more to the purchase of the Oregonian than the enormity of the price – it represented a major shift in his overall approach to newspapers. In one bold move, he had broadened his newspaper horizons to include the entire U.S., not just the northeast corridor that ran from Syracuse to Manhattan to Harrisburg. Furthermore, by delegating responsibility to one of his brothers, he had dramatically expanded the number of newspapers he could handle at one time.

Perhaps most satisfying of all to Newhouse was his sense that he no longer could properly be called a ragpicker. The paper he had just purchased enjoyed an excellent reputation. Besides, once it paid off its new building and tightened up its business practices, it would be as profitable as any he owned. Thus, it was little wonder that he was excited on the night of his second visit to Portland. After a few Scotches in his room at the Benson Hotel, he placed a call to Ernie Doepke in Harrisburg. It was about one o-clock in the morning on the east coast when the call came in, but Doepke remembered Newhouse's first words exactly: "Ernie, It’s S.I. I'm in Portland, Oregon. I just bought the Oregonian. It's the biggest, best buy I ever made in my life."

Part 4 in a series: Newhouse profits & power - How the West was Won

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There have been rumors to this day of the poor relations between The Oregonian and ITS unions. Plus its disdain for any unionizing of ITS operation.

This brings up some interesting questions about The Oregonian editorial positions regarding unions.

Does it buy off union support by sucking up the union position? Or does it simply want to distract from its own anti-union stance with ITS own employees?

Of course, The Oregonian will not reveal its own hypocricy. Others(The OregoniOn)will have to carry the ball.

The Oregonian's hypocricy could be its own downfall.

Which brings up a new angle, but a "shoot the moon" one at that...Leftwing disenchantment with The Oregonian. Yes, a tall order considering how much water The Oregonian carries for leftwingers in this state.

But reflecting on the uproar in leftwing circles with the Ron Saxton endorsement...Suggests it is not impossible.

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