The Columbian in Vancouver, Wa., is facing a “debt foreclosure action” related to a loan it obtained to help finance its move to a new building. Unfortunately for the newspaper, and unfortunately for reporters and others who have been laid off, it has since moved back to its former building and is facing legal action by Bank of America.
But The Columbian has no plans to cease operations. From its business section:
(Publisher Scott) Campbell emphasized that it would be business as usual for readers, advertisers and employees of The Columbian.
“The fact is we have a huge readership — in print and online — that represents the largest aggregation of Clark County citizens available,” he said. “Our products are very valuable to businesses that are trying to reach consumers in an increasingly overloaded and confusing media environment. The economics of the (newspaper) business are changing, but there is a clear path to a sustainable long-term business model.”
Campbell said the publishing company’s strong preference is to resolve the debt issue, but he described the agreement process as complicated for both the bank and the newspaper.
Meanwhile, the new building at 415 W. Sixth St. continues to be marketed for both lease and/or purchase. Two of its six floors are leased.
So here we have a newspaper in financial trouble over a bad real estate decision, and it’s being sued by Bank of America, which acquired Countrywide and Merrill Lynch. If things run true to form we can expect that taxpayers will be called upon one way or another. We know newspaper owners in this state have asked for a tax break, and there has been noise about the City of Vancouver purchasing the new Columbian building for city offices.
On the optimistic side, it is true that The Columbian benefits from a unique media landscape, being the only traditional media outlet of any consequence in Clark County. Historically Portland media has more or less ignored non-heinous news north of the river, and Clark County long ago lost its lone AM radio station to robot-controlled oldies programming. Unlike a lot of metro areas that consider themselves one place, the Columbia River is still a magical barrier when it comes to the flow of information.
I have no earthly idea how long Campbell can ride out the Great Recession, and nobody knows for certain when the economy will truly turn the corner. If Campbell has enough wealth to do so, it looks like he will wait it out.
But as national job figures continue to appear dismal, it’s hard to imagine a big uptick in advertising dollars for newspapers anytime soon.