Was that a decade which just flashed by?

Scott Swanson

Ten years ago, April 1, was a Monday, a bit cold and rainy, as I recall.

It was our first day as owners of The New Era.

Wow. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Ten years. Time does fly.

This week’s edition of the newspaper will be No. 520 for us. Taken by itself, that number is kind of mind-blowing and what’s even more shocking is how fast it’s all flashed by.

A lot has happened since April 1, 2005, which, it occurred to me later, was April Fools Day, but we won’t go into that.

We’ve covered graduations, car chases, thousands of athletic events, bank robberies, 10 Oregon Jamborees, community happiness, community sadness – I’d guess about 5,000 individual stories, although I haven’t tried to calculate them all.

If I were to list the most memorable events, I’d have to say the ones that stick out most for me are the fires that destroyed Cascadia School and the bowling alley, the creation of the Sweet Home Active Revitalization Effort (SHARE), the state championships won by the wrestling, track and field, swimming and cheer teams, and the community effort to build a house for a former football star, disabled by a physical condition, after a windstorm destroyed his mobile home.

We’ve written about a lot of very interesting people, whom I won’t even attempt to list here because I would leave too many out.

Sweet Home has changed. Some of those changes are clear: new chain stores, fresher paint on many of our buildings, a closed school, SHARE’s seven-year run as an economic development force (which, I think, sets a record for continuity), and a plethora of developing opportunities that local folks seem to be interested in taking advantage of.

At home a lot has changed too. We’ve said goodbye to two dogs, one house, two cats, two kids (off to college), two steers, more vehicles than I care to count right now, and definitely more fish than I want to tally up at the moment. It’s all gone by very fast.

Changes are happening fast in the news business too, which is one reason why we came to Sweet Home and The New Era in the first place.

Despite rumors to the contrary, I really didn’t come to The New Era to fulfill a dream to own my own newspaper. Frankly, I was experiencing what too many of my colleagues in this business still are – management of newspapers by people who have no real connection to the communities their papers serve and who make decisions that steadily weaken the service their newspapers provide – for whatever reason.

We hear frequently that newspapers are dying, but I’m convinced that most that are floundering are those which, for various reasons, have gotten away from what they do best: cover local news. For us, what I was looking for was a chance to see if it was still possible to do the kind of journalism I was trained to do: coverage of local public affairs and community sports, human interest stories on people whose lives and activities made them noteworthy in some way. I decided that a small-town newspaper gave me the best chance of doing that and I found myself in a financial position to pull the trigger on acquiring The New Era.

I’ve always believed that newspapers must be focused on service to their community, that they aren’t just a business. There are a lot of better ways to just make money.

What we want The New Era to provide to Sweet Home is critical information about the organizations and activities in our town – decisions that will affect our everyday lives, achievements by our local residents, local needs, trends, opportunities, etc.

In the increasingly fast-paced world we live in, it’s become more challenging to do news. Life is more complex than it was when I started in journalism, back in the early 1980s.

People had land lines and their names were in the phone book. Now our staff members send Facebook queries and hope the person we’re trying to contact looks at their Facebook. Or we call a mutual acquaintance and try to get someone’s cell number. It’s time-consuming.

I used to get a dozen or so envelopes with news information in them. Now I get a couple of hundred e-mail messages a day, the majority of it best described as junk, and it’s easy to miss the stuff I really want to see. There is a lot more competition for advertising dollars, which pays the costs of producing news and the pages to put the news on.

It’s been a good 10 years in many ways. We’ve made many friends. Our readers seem to appreciate the local news. I’d love to expand our operation, news-wise, to bring you more, but the opportunity to do that hasn’t present itself. In the end, it’s still a business.

I’ve had a few regrets over the years, but that happens in this business – stories you don’t get to cover because they don’t work out for some reason, errors in judgment or in stories, and all the things in the “to-do” pile that have yet to be done.

When we took over The New Era, I knew it was going to be, in many senses, the hardest job I’ve ever had. It has been. Waking up at 2 in the morning to a fire siren and running out in the rain to take photos isn’t always the most comfortable thing in the world. News never stops happening, but I really appreciate having dedicated staffers and volunteers who doggedly sacrifice personal convenience to make sure important news events get coverage.

I hope the years ahead are even greater.

I like to remember the old adage that you’re only as good as your staff is, and we have had great staff members since we arrived in Sweet Home. I thank God for that and you should too.

They’re the reason why you get a paper every week that has your kids’ and grandkids’ names and faces in it, that tells what happened at the City Council or School Board meeting, that provides a point of connection for the community as well as a source of information that we make every attempt to confirm as accurate before we print it.

I remember, 10 years ago, my predecessor Alex Paul telling me “You’ll never run out of things to cover in Sweet Home.” He was so right. We cover a lot of stuff, but I regret we can’t do more.

If I were to summarize the last decade of running your local newspaper in one sentence, it would have to be this: It’s never, ever, been boring.