I’ve drawn a paycheck from Western Communications Inc. for more than half my life, which is the sort of thing that tends to influence a person’s attitudes about a company.
And never mind that I signed up for direct deposit years ago and the checks nowadays are made of pixels rather than paper.
After 27 years those documents, in whatever form, will soon be issued by a different company.
This is a milestone.
And as milestones usually do, this one has left me feeling a trifle unsettled, as though the precipice I’m straddling were a real place in the mountains rather than a figurative fulcrum between eras.
I learned Tuesday, along with my colleagues, some of whom have much longer tenures with WesCom than I have, that the Baker City Herald and The Observer in La Grande, under the WesCom banner for half a century, will soon be owned by the EO Media Group.
The company, which was founded in 1908, is, in common with WesCom, a family operation.
Since WesCom announced this spring that it would sell its newspapers, I figured the EO Media Group was a logical buyer.
Most obviously there is geography.
The EO Media Group owns newspapers whose circulation areas form a sort of crescent around the Herald’s own. The company’s publications include the East Oregonian in Pendleton, the Wallowa County Chieftain in Enterprise and the Blue Mountain Eagle in John Day.
But the more important similarity, it seems to me, is that both companies have a legacy, many decades in the making, of ensuring that residents of Eastern Oregon, where the distances are comparatively vast and the sagebrush far more abundant than the media outlets, are as well-informed about their communities as their urban counterparts are about theirs.
This service is no less vital today even as, to briefly revisit my earlier comparison of check types, we report the news digitally as well as via ink pressed onto thin paper.
Heidi Wright, the chief operating officer for the EO Media Group, touched on the topic in a story the company published Tuesday.
“Our owners are committed to keeping local journalism alive in the rural communities we serve,” Wright said. “We look forward to providing credible and relevant news to the La Grande and Baker City communities for many years to come.”
This is, to put it simply, what we do.
And what we have done at the H erald since 1870, which gives us a mere 5-year edge on the East Oregonian in terms of publishing lineage (the newspaper predates the company).
When WesCom announced that it was selling the Herald I was rather more worried about who might bu y the paper than about whether anyone would at all.
My fear was that a corporation with no history in Eastern Oregon would be the suitor, and that its leaders would either not understand, or not respect, the relationship between a relatively small, relatively isolated town and its newspaper.
(I use “its” in this context rather than, say, “our,” intentionally, as I believe the Herald, after almost a century and a half, is a member of the community rather than an aloof chronicler of events.)
The EO Media Group’s history shows that it is the antithesis to the sort of tone-deaf corporate oversight the prospect of which caused me no small trepidation over the past couple months.
The company’s newspapers, I believe, fulfill much the same role that the Herald and The Observer do.
Which would not be the case, I’m certain, were the company’s goals dramatically different from what I’ve come to expect from WesCom over almost three decades in its employ.
This pleases me greatly.
I don’t expect that I’ll need to explain why we run stories about snowpack statistics and their potential effects on alfalfa yields, or why smiling school kids get on the front page often, or why our reporters sit through hours of city council and school board meetings and write about interfund transfers.
It is, if I may be so bold as to paraphrase the great rock lyricist Pete Townshend, a case of meeting a new boss that is much the same as the old boss.
The difference is that Townshend, in the context of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” thought this continuity a bad thing.
I believe the opposite.
And yet my excitement about the future is tempered by that curious concoction of the happy and the sad that we call nostalgia.
It saddens me to ponder the dissolution of WesCom, a company founded by a great newspaperman, Robert Chandler, and one that has done a great service, over the decades, for residents in the sprawling lands of Oregon that lie east of the Cascades.
And it’s a company that has done a great deal for me, as I mentioned at the outset.
I’d like to believe, of course, as everyone does who toils for a wage, that I earned those paychecks imprinted with the WesCom logo.
But I recognize too that I wasn’t entitled to this job, not when I started in 1992 and not at any time since then.
I’m not so naíve, or sentimental, to suggest that my relationship with WesCom is more deeply personal than it is. Business, as the saying goes, is business. I am an employee, paid to do a job. It’s a company that’s breaking up, not a nuclear family.
But even financial relationships can be strong ones. Love may indeed define our lives , but money still pays the way, and a regular income, whether it warms the heart, certainly warms the home.
And it gets right chilly around here come December.
J ayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.