Cheap, trashy and inky, Portland’s newspapers resemble the city itself – vibrant and diverse with a healthy dose of crackpot. Here’s a rundown of the pulpy Portland press.
The Major League – General Interest
The Oregonian (35 cents daily, $1.50 Sundays) www.oregonlive.com
This nationally-recognized, Pulitzer-Prize winning broadsheet newspaper (its pages are just slightly narrower than the New York Times) was known in the past for cutting-edge design work and has operated a bit like a farm team for world class journalism. Current New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller got his start at the “O.” The Oregonian is part of the Newhouse group of papers.
Pros: A wide compendium of community news and fairly decent city hall coverage makes the Oregonian a must-read for newsies wanting fodder for dinnertime discussions of Sam Adams’ haircut or Tom “Potsie” Potter’s recumbent bike. Plus, the daily edition only costs a quarter and a dime.
Cons: Many of the editorial pushes of recent years seem out of touch. The O’s coverage of land use quibbles have seemed like attempts to appease down-state rednecks at the cost of ruffling the feathers of up-state bluebloods. Arts coverage is often painfully out of touch and news features are usually just New York Times reprints. Don’t bother with the Sunday edition unless you subscribe. The $1.50 gets you little more than a color comics page and Parade magazine.
Willamette Week (free Wednesday mornings) www.wweek.com
Portland’s newest Pulitzer winner, the “Willy,” is sometimes a tough nut to crack. Are its news pages supposed to be unbiased? Are they supposed to be funny? Are they supposed to be read? It’s hard to tell. What is apparent is that the paper has attracted top-notch investigative news talent in Nick Budnick and Nigel Jaquiss. Jaquiss won the paper its Pulitzer Prize for airing former Governor Neil Goldschmidt’s ’70s-era dirty doings and brought down a deal to sell Enron asset PGE to Texas Pacific. The Willamette Week is owned by a local partnership called City of Roses Newspapers.
Pros: Short-form news capsules in the front (Winners and Losers, Murmurs, etc.) lead the reader into a 5-page magazine-style news piece and an exhaustive music listings section.
Cons: Visual arts coverage is puzzlingly relegated to a space the same size as the paper’s lackluster book reviews. During slow periods investigative journalism reads like a laundry list and too often the Willy targets non-profits with their investigative ire.
The Portland Mercury (free Wednesday evenings) www.portlandmercury.com
Portland’s other free paper is a coke-fueled ride through the wilds of misinformation. But what the Rose City version of Seattle’s Stranger lacks in lucid reporting it makes up for in humorous satire. I Love Television, One Day at a Time and the syndicated column Savage Love have rabid, regular readers, and with good reason. The Portland Mercury is published by Index Newspapers.
Pro: Hilarious weekly features and a good selection of comics. Visual arts coverage can be extensive. Theme issues are sometimes smashing successes. Consistently beautiful cover images.
Con: Much of the arts coverage reads like fanboy axe-grinding and the news page relies too heavily on issue-driven campaigns on the part of the paper’s former mayoral candidate news editor Phil Busse.
Portland Tribune (free Tuesdays and Fridays) www.portlandtribune.com
This tabloid-sized upstart has struggled since its start to find a spot between the Willamette Week and the Oregonian, the city’s mainstays and the paper’s main competitors. Time has shown that the Trib seems to be targeting readers who sneer at references to either paper in conversation. The Tribune is owned by Bob Pamplin, Jr..
Pro: Jacob Quinn Sanders’ pieces for the news section are often some of the most enjoyable cop beat stories in print around town.
Con: The Trib’s effort to report Frank Gabels out of jail for the murder of Michael Francke is as tiresome today as columnist Phil Stanford’s campaign to do the same in the pages of the Oregonian more than a decade ago.
The Minor League – Community Interest
Just Out (free every other Friday) www.justout.com
Portland’s queer paper, focused on issues of the Gay and Lesbian community. In Portland, “queer” issues are hot topics, with rural Portlanders swinging right on issues like gay marriage and a huge majority of the rest of the city swinging to the rabid left of absolute inclusion. News editor Sarah Dougher is a singer/songwriter cum Portland State Professor and the newspaper has a nice selection of well-healed local coverage and good wire selection.
El Hispanic News (free every Thursday) www.elhispanicnews.com
The top bilingual newspaper in town, El Hispanic News is a source for Associated Press stories you won’t find printed in the Oregonian and a fresh, intelligent perspective on being Hispanic in Portland and the surrounding area. News is printed in English and Spanish.
The Northwest Examiner (free every month)
The Examiner is the city’s closest thing to a local tabloid. The opinions are fierce, the photos are staged and the issues are light. The Northwest Examiner is a mainstay of Portland’s weirdest Westside neighborhood and well worth the read. How else would curious minds find out who isn’t scooping their doggie’s poop?
The Little League – Student Publications
Vanguard (free four days a week during school)
The general interest student publication of Portland State University. The Vanguard’s scope includes campus and city news, student opinion, arts and culture (heavy on the arts) and sports. But you know all that. You’re reading it.
The Rearguard (free every month)
Left of the dial and pushing the meters, the Rearguard takes in opinion from the university, the city and the world and kicks out a tidy little bundle not unlike what you’d find around town in the myriad lefty mags about town. The difference is that the Rearguard spends a good chunk of its ink on campus issues.
Portland Spectator (free each month)
A conservative journal of opinion that adheres to the tenants of Reaganomics, the Spectator is the source for students who blush red from isolation in the deep blue sea of Portland State University. The magazine has made its mark with frequently hilarious – if often off color – coverage of student politics.
The Agitator (free each month)
A staple-bound zine produced by the Progressive Student Union led by venerable, longtime student Lew Church. The Agitator’s main claim to fame was the struggle with the University – it lost last year to gain student fee funding (the three other student papers receive student fee money). But the paper perseveres, printing anonymous reports of frustration.