Rogue Valley Messenger announces closure

Some editions of the Rogue Valley Messenger from recent years, including the last edition published, at right. Ashland.news photo by Bert Etling
January 18, 2023

Statement issued one day after Mail Tribune shut down, but last issue came out last fall

By Damian Mann for Ashland.news

A day after the Mail Tribune ended its reign as Southern Oregon’s largest newspaper, the Rogue Valley Messenger also called it quits.

The free news and entertainment tabloid announced it had closed on Saturday, Jan. 14, though the publication largely ceased operations last fall.

“We said it was time to call it quits,” said Phil Busse, who was editor and publisher.

Phil Busse

The last publication of the tabloid was in September 2022, and by November most of the online effort had also ceased, but Busse said he recently noticed comments were still appearing on its Facebook page.

He realized that some readers weren’t aware the Messenger, which debuted in 2013, had shut down. Busse acknowledged the irony of not getting the word out.

“We never posted anything to Facebook, and we were still getting interest from people,” Busse said.

As a result, he posted a message to inform readers that the publication of the Messenger had ended. The Messenger had previously notified advertisers that it was shutting down.

Medford resident David Nienow responded on Facebook, “First the Medford Mail Tribune and now Rogue Valley Messenger. It’s not a good thing for this region to see print news go dead.”

Busse said the financing to keep the Messenger running wasn’t as much of a problem as staffing issues.

A professor of journalism at Pacific University, Busse lives in Portland and freelancers and other volunteers for the Messenger lived throughout the state.

“The only local person was the managing editor, and she lived in Grants Pass,” he said.

The Messenger offered local information about communities in the region, covering Ashland to Grants Pass.

When it launched, the paper came out every other week, printing about 5,000 copies, and eventually began offering more information online.

The Messenger offered a music issue, hosted local music concerts and had a Give Guide highlighting regional nonprofit groups and also hosted a Giving Tuesday event.

Busse said readers were more interested in the print version, and said he himself prefers to hold an actual paper copy of a newspaper.

The Messenger initially offered a mix of local civics and culture stories, but because of the inability to attract journalists, the amount of local civics stories lessened over time, Busse said.

“If it’s not a full-time salaried position, it’s hard to ask people to sit through all of city council hearings,” he said.

Busse said a well-trained journalist typically has years of experience and spends considerable time monitoring a beat.

“It really is sad that print journalism has been folding in Southern Oregon,” he said.

He said the lack of print journalism leaves people disconnected from the social and cultural fabric of their communities.

The Grants Pass Daily Courier, which offers a print version of its paper, has vowed to increase coverage in Jackson County after the demise of the Mail Tribune, which ended its print publication on Sept. 30, 2022, and became online only until all operations ceased on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023.

Despite the difficult media landscape currently, Busse remains hopeful.

“In spite of shutting down the Messenger, I have more optimism about local journalism,” he said.

He said more newsletter-type journalism efforts keep popping up, and Axios, an online news organization, is expected to go online next week in Portland and has hired former Willamette Week staffers.

Busse, who is executive director at the Portland nonprofit Media Institute for Social Change, said he’s open to talking to someone who seriously wants to restart his former publication.

“I would love it if somebody wanted to resurrect it,” he said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.

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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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