The roots were established when founder Elmo Smith and his wife, Dorothy, borrowed $25 to establish a mimeographed weekly newspaper in Ontario, Ore. More than six decades later, Eagle continues to meet the needs of communities in much the same manner as Elmo and his associates did in the 1930s and 1940s.
Elmo believed, and often said, “You show me a good newspaper and I’ll show you a good town.” And he was a firm believer in treating employees as partners and colleagues. He instilled those values in his son, while Denny—now chairman of the board of directors—was growing up and learning the business. Those values continue to be guiding factors in the company’s operation today.
WWII interrupted Elmo’s newspaper career for a few years, but after serving in the South Pacific, he returned to Ontario and reclaimed his newspaper from a couple he had found to run it for him. He sold it in 1948 and, with the proceeds, purchased the Blue Mountain Eagle, moving his family to John Day, where he began his public service career as mayor—he went on to serve in the Oregon State Senate and as governor. Elmo and his friend, Bill Robinson, bought the Madras Pioneer, the same year. Bill ran it, and the family business was incorporated as Blue Mountain Eagle.
The 60’s and 70’s
The business inched its way west of its Eastern Oregon roots in 1961 when the Hood River News was added. At this time Elmo was the publisher of the Albany Democrat-Herald, and he charged his son, Denny, fresh out of college, with running the newly-acquired weekly. When his father died in 1968, Denny took the reins of a company that included Madras, Hood River, and Dallas. During the next 11 years, still operating as Blue Mountain Eagle, he and a board of directors comprised of working publishers and managers, pursued a steady, prudent investment in new properties and equipment.
With the 1970s came a new opportunity in the wake of a major disaster. A gas leak created an explosion that totally destroyed the building housing the Dallas weekly Nov. 11, 1970. Inside was a brand new four-unit press that had run for the first time just the day before and had the first payment due the next day.
Denny saw lemonade in the lemon and his foresight expanded the company’s focus.
Rebuilding the newspaper plant and establishing a central printing plant became two separate projects. The web press project has grown from $60,000 to nearly $12 million in annual sales and from 4000 square feet with a trailer for an office to 60,000 square feet in an attractive industrial park in Salem.
In 1979, when the corporate name changed to Eagle Newspapers, Inc., the company included weeklies in 13 Oregon communities and had crossed the Columbia River to include two in Washington.
The 80’s and 90’s
The 1980s were ushered in with more Washington sites and a crossing of the Snake River into Idaho with the purchase of a weekly in Grangeville. The company welcomed its first daily in 1984, when Eagle’s weekly in Sunnyside, Wash., was merged with the Daily News. A mailing service had been a part of Eagle Web Press, but in 1993 it was spun off after the acquisition of a mailing company and established Eagle Mailing Service.
The 1990s began with an entrance into the niche market with the purchase of Printer’s Northwest Trader. Before the decade ended, others were acquired—Daily Shipping News, Freshwater News, and Northwest Senior News. And another daily was added with the acquisition of The Dalles (Ore.) Daily Chronicle.
The New Millennium
The new millennium brought other niche publications and the Moneysaver operations in Lewiston and Moscow, ID. It also brought a lifestyle magazine to the Columbia River Gorge. The focus has seen much energy and capital put into new buildings and equipment. Eagle Web Press went through a complete conversion to all digital prepress. Madras, Newberg, Grangeville, The Dalles, and Senior News moved into new homes—other properties are receiving facelifts or extensive remodeling. The company computers have been updated to resolve serious security problems, websites have been enhanced and a busy Eagle tech department is racing to keep up with the rapid technological advancements. In January 2013, the face of Eagle changed once again, as six newspapers – Woodburn Independent, Canby Herald, Newberg Graphic, Wilsonville Spokesman, Molalla Pioneer and Madras Pioneer – were sold to Oregon Publications Corporation. The final phase of that transaction was completed in July 2013, when Oregon Publications Corporation purchased the Central Oregonian and Central Oregon Press, located in Prineville, Oregon.
What remains solidly embedded in the company’s philosophy and actions is the founder’s wise advice—”Hire good people, treat them as partners, and let them grow.”