Almost 12 years to the day the EO Media Group took ownership of the Hermiston Herald, the venerable paper is now undergoing another significant milestone.
Starting this week, the Herald will transform from a small-circulation paid newspaper of approximately 1,000 to a mass distribution free product mailed to more than 14,500 households in western Umatilla and eastern Morrow counties, and distributed for free at rack locations throughout the area each week.
“We are going to put it in the hands of as many people as possible in the greater Hermiston, Umatilla and Boardman areas,” said Chris Rush, the regional publisher of the Herald. “We’re going to overnight, basically, take it from a 1,000-plus paid circulation to 14,000-plus free distribution. That’s a huge audience and it deserves to be seen.”
Rush said taking the Herald, which published its first paper under EO Media Group control on May 2, 2008, to a free publication has been a topic that’s been around in some form for at least a year.
“It was an issue we needed to look at and figure out going forward,” he said. “We looked at some alternatives and I think we gave it a good effort to try to promote it with standard marketing and do those things that typically you do from a circulation marketing standpoint.”
But Rush said it’s important to remember that a newspaper lives and dies financially by the amount of revenue it generates through advertising. The move to a free publication should make the product more attractive to local, regional and national advertisers.
“I think a lot of folks probably assume that we make our money by selling individual newspapers and that’s never been true. Circulation, subscriptions, what we charge in a rack — that basically subsidizes delivery of the product,” he said. “Any revenue that we would lose by forgoing paid circulation, we are betting is going be more than made up for on the revenue side by having a vastly larger reading audience, and that it also doubles as a very excellent advertising vehicle for local businesses.”
Free copies of the Hermiston Herald will be distributed to postal customers on Wednesday each week throughout Hermiston, Umatilla, Stanfield, Irrigon, and Boardman. In addition, several hundred free copies will also be available for pickup at area racks and inside stores.
The new Herald will feature unique local reporting — covering more business, agriculture and economic impact issues in western Umatilla County. Editor Jade McDowell said differentiating the publication from its sister paper the East Oregonian is key.
“We don’t want to compete with the East Oregonian,” she said. “There’s a lot of economic development and growth happening in Hermiston, so it’s a very natural fit for a Hermiston paper to cover those things. But as part of that, then we will leave some of those other general interest things to the East Oregonian and encourage people to keep subscribing to that paper as well.”
McDowell said a few items, such as local sports coverage, state government coverage, puzzles and some special sections, will migrate to being reserved for paid subscribers of the East Oregonian. But the Herald will be adding new features, such as a weekly opinion page and a separate dedicated business page for business news with a new feature called “In the Works.”
“Right now, we usually say, ‘OK, the city council has approved this. There’s a ground-breaking and that’s great.’ But ‘In the Works’ will be more of a look at, here’s something that might be happening,” McDowell said. “Somebody’s applied for a building permit for this, somebody’s gone before the planning commission and asked for rezoning changes that would make their project possible, but it’s not 100% yet.”
McDowell said she’s hopeful that as time goes on and readers become accustomed to the new format, they will submit tips of things going on.
Online, the Herald website, social media pages and mobile app will remain active, with the paywall removed, something that should bring joy to the many people who have expressed their displeasure about the paywall over the years.
“We get a lot of complaints when people hit the paywall on the website, so people are happy that’s going away,” she said.
In addition, all current Hermiston Herald paid subscribers will automatically be converted to East Oregonian customers, at no additional cost.
“I’ve gotten some concerns from current subscribers who have called and had questions about, ‘How is this going to affect my subscription?,” McDowell said. “And they’ve been happy to learn that they’re going to be able to get the East Oregonian for free for a while, essentially. They’re not gonna be charged extra for switching over to the EO even though it’s more of an expensive product for now.”