By Andrew Cutler

East Oregonian

PENDLETON — For the staffs of the Baker City Herald and The Observer in La Grande, Thursday’s news that Bankruptcy Judge Trish M. Brown authorized the sale of the two papers to the EO Media Group was a chance to breathe a sigh of relief.

For the EO Media Group, the news continues the company’s push to strengthen its position as a leading regional media presence.

“We’re very pleased to have La Grande and Baker City as part of the EO Media Group. We’re excited about the many possibilities this affords us in Eastern Oregon,” said Heidi Wright, the EO Media Group chief operations officer. “The purchase of these papers gives our company a greater ability to serve the region in a more effective way. This will grow EO Media Group’s presence in Eastern Oregon from four newspapers to six.”

The two new acquisitions join the East Oregonian, Hermiston Herald, Wallowa County Chieftain and Blue Mountain Eagle as the EO Media Group’s properties in Eastern Oregon.

“The joining together of these outstanding news and advertising operations, with four of them located along the I-84 corridor, will mean greater resources and opportunities for both local and regional news reporting. And that’s a good thing for readers in all markets,” EO Media Group Regional Publisher Chris Rush said.

Western Communications, which also owns the Bend Bulletin, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January. The company first sought to restructure, then decided to liquidate its assets. This was the second bankruptcy for Western Communications in the past 10 years. It emerged from another bankruptcy in 2012.

The Observer and Baker City Herald Publisher Karrine Brogoitti said to finally reach this milestone was something she couldn’t fathom a year ago.

“When things were their toughest or looked incredibly bleak, the thing that kept me, and everyone else, going was that commitment to what we do,” she said. “The pride and passion that these staffs have for their papers, their communities, their readers and their advertisers is something that I continue to be amazed at. It’s that unyielding passion that got us through some incredibly stressful days.”

Brogoitti said she believes there are brighter days ahead with new ownership in place and a renewed sense of optimism in both locations.

“Now, we get to reap the benefits of that hard work,” she said. “The EO Media Group saw a smart and profitable investment and a dedicated, loyal staff.”

According to court documents, the EO Media Group bought the two community newspapers from Western Communications for $775,000.

Rush said EO Media Group is only buying the newspapers and business equipment, not the real estate in La Grande. The Herald is in a leased space in downtown Baker City. The Observer will likely be relocating from their current home on Fifth Street to new office space in La Grande sometime this summer.

Rush, who will add La Grande and Baker City to his role as regional publisher of the Eastern Oregon group, said for the near term there are no significant operational changes planned.

“The EO Media Group is hiring all current employees in both La Grande and Baker City operations,” he said. “Readers and advertisers will have the same printing, publishing and delivery schedule for both newspapers.”

Brogoitti will remain in charge of day-to-day operations in both locations as the publisher.

The papers officially become part of the EO Media Group on Monday, July 1.

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