Medford Mail Tribune to ‘cease all operations’ Friday

A Google Street View image of the Mail Tribune office on North Fir Street in Medford in May 2019.
January 11, 2023

Publisher cites reduced advertising, rising costs for closure after more than 100 years of publication

By Jim Flint for Ashland.news

Tracing its roots back to 1906, the Medford Mail Tribune, the first Oregon newspaper to win a Pulitzer Prize, announced that it will cease all operations on Friday, Jan. 13, the day of its last published online issue.

“This was a difficult business decision,” said Steve Saslow in a statement published on the MT’s website Wednesday afternoon. Saslow is publisher and CEO of Rosebud Media LLC, the company that purchased the Mail Tribune, Ashland Tidings, and related publications from GateHouse Media in 2017.

“The shuttering of this institution is a real loss for all constituents in Southern Oregon,” he said.

“Unfortunately, industry-wide reductions, and in some cases complete elimination of national advertising … for newspapers, digital or printed editions, coupled with rising costs of content and the difficulty of hiring staff and managers have made continuing the Mail Tribune unsustainable,” he said in the statement.

The statement about the closure published at about 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11, on the Mail Tribune website.

Saslow said refunds due for unused portions of paid subscriptions will be issued within 60 days.

Even before the pandemic, Rosebud began showing the strain of publishing in the digital age. In the summer of 2019, the Mail Tribune and Ashland Tidings began publishing in the same format and featuring the same national and regional news while adding more video stories on its website. At the same time, an e-edition reader was developed for its online reproductions of the newspapers.

A year later, in August 2020, Rosebud merged the two newspapers into one with two editions — one serving the greater Medford area, the other, the “Ashland Edition,” serving Phoenix, Talent, Ashland and Northern California. They were essentially the same newspaper with some pages devoted to local content specific to the areas the two editions served.

It was then that the newspaper also cut back its print schedule to four days per week — Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday — with the other three days offering digital editions only.

By then, many believed the print edition’s days were numbered, and on Sept. 30, 2022, the Mail Tribune printed its last physical newspaper and moved to a completely online format beginning in October of that year.

At the time, Saslow reminded readers that he had made a commitment to keep a printed newspaper as long as it could break even, but noted that line had been crossed “a long time ago.” He said the costs of printing and delivering a physical newspaper threatened to bring down the whole enterprise.

In making the change to all-digital, about 15 people involved in printing the newspaper were laid off, and about 40 independent contractor newspaper delivery drivers no longer had work with the Mail Tribune.

In the online model Rosebud adopted, some content was free with other content requiring a subscription.

In making the move, Saslow acknowledged the difficulty of adapting to the change and thanked employees and readers for their patience.

“I feel very thankful that this community will not be without the resource of the Mail Tribune,” he said in the story announcing the change last October.

As of Saturday, that resource will exist only in its archives. 

“It’s really a sad day for local journalism, the people who work there and the community,” said Bob Hunter, who started at the Mail Tribune in 1985 and was editor there from 1992 to 2018. “There are other options for local news in Medford, but nothing that gets to the granular level the Mail Tribune once did. Maybe something can rise from the ashes and help provide the local news that’s critical for democracy and community.”

“The closure of another Oregon newspaper is hardly surprising as it’s a well-documented trend nationwide,” commented  Andrew DeVigal, director of the University of Oregon’s Agora Journalism Center, which recently released a report on accessing Oregon’s local news and information ecosystem. “But the news should still be alarming. The effects of the nationwide closure of news outlets are felt acutely in less populated communities, where a shortage of journalists reporting on local news has often led to a rise in polarization, corruption and a decrease in civic engagement. To maintain a healthy and informed community, the preservation of local news is essential.”

116 Years Old

The Medford Mail got its start in 1906, publishing a morning edition. A competitor, the Medford Tribune, published in the afternoon.

The two papers merged on Nov. 1, 1909, under the direction of editor George Putnam, creating what was billed as “the largest printing and publishing establishment in Southern Oregon.”

The new Mail Tribune published Monday through Friday evenings with a Sunday morning edition. Putnam was a crusader for truth and printed what he believed. “A newspaper without enemies has no friends,” was his motto.

The paper was sold in 1919 to Robert Ruhl, who served as editor and publisher for more than 30 years.

In the 1930s, Ruhl took on the leaders of the Good Government Congress, an anti-establishment movement that brought turmoil and violence to Jackson County during a time later called the “Jackson County Rebellion.” His editorials condemning the movement and calling for rational behavior from citizens led to the Pulitzer Prize.

Ruhl’s wife sold the paper in 1973 to Ottaway Newspapers, a subsidiary of Dow Jones & Co. It was then that the newspaper switched from hot metal to offset printing. A Saturday edition was added in 1989, the same day the “Medford” part of the newspaper’s name was dropped.

The seven-days-a-week morning edition schedule was adopted in 1995.

Ottaway purchased the Ashland Daily Tidings in October of 2002. After Ottaway and before Rosebud Media, MT owners included Newcastle Investment Corp, later spun off as part of the publicly traded New Media Investment Group, and managed by GateHouse Media until the sale to Rosebud Media in 2017.

The Ashland Tidings began publishing in 1876, beginning as a weekly, becoming a twice-weekly in 1896, and a daily newspaper in 1919, adding “Daily” to its name.

Reach writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com. Ashland.news Executive Editor Bert Etling contributed to this report. Email Etling at betling@ashland.news.

Jan. 11 update: Comment added from Bob Hunter.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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