Still in print – Eugene Weekly
It all started with a hope and a dream. Forty years ago this month, four back-to-the-land hippies pooled their resources and vision to start a small weekly newspaper in Eugene called What is happening.
The year was 1982, and Eugene was a hot article on the nation’s cultural landscape. The Hult Center opened that year. The Eugene Saturday Market had been operating for a decade, as had the Oregon Country Fair. In the previous decade, Life The magazine had dubbed Eugene, a town hardly anyone outside of Oregon had ever heard of, the nation’s most livable town. The arts flourished there in ways inconceivable today. In 1974, half a dozen internationally renowned sculptors spent six weeks working in Eugene as part of the Oregon International Sculpture Symposium. Eugene, you could say, was always on a roll.
From the beginning, What is happening — which would officially become Weekly Eugene in 1993 – defined itself as an alternative weekly (as in “alternative”), part of a press movement that swept the country in the 1960s. The voice of the village in New York, the THE FREE PRESSand, in Portland, Willamette Week began to cover the news from a freer and less tense perspective than that of the mainstream press.
Two previous attempts to pitch alternative items to Eugene had ultimately failed. But the challenges didn’t intimidate the four women who started what has become Weekly Eugene. The women – Elisabeth Lyman, Lucia McKelvey, Sonja Ungemach and Lois Wadsworth – moved forward with late-night enthusiasm and manic energy with a male addition, Bill Snyder. The first issue, dated September 16, 1982, was eight pages long and featured a review of a performance by actress Jane Van Boskirk at the new Eugene Performing Arts Center, not yet called the Hult Center.
Over the following decades, the paper attracted an astonishing array of voices. Local photographer Paul Neevel launched a story that continues today, “Happening People,” about people in the city making a difference. EO would regularly feature work by community leaders, such as the late gay columnist Sally Sheklow, former state legislator and political columnist Tony Corcoran, pastor and homeless advocate Dan Bryant, and retired federal judge Thomas Coffin. We helped launch the career of outdoor writer Bill Sulllivan. We also had work from nationally known figures such as sex columnist Dan Savage and California artist Sandow Birk, who donated Trump cartoons for the cover of a 2017 issue calling to Trump’s impeachment. And we’re always looking for more diverse voices from the community.
By the early 1990s, unrest was simmering. With more journalistic mission than business acumen, the founding fathers and mothers found themselves in dire financial straits. They made it known that they needed investors.
Enter Art and Anita Johnson and Fred and Georga Taylor, who bought the paper around 1991. Anita Johnson, a 1952 graduate of the University of Oregon School of Journalism, who later worked at The Washington Post before moving to Oregon with her husband, wanted to enter. She called a former UO classmate, Fred Taylor, former editor of The Wall Street Journal who had retired with his wife to the Oregon coast, to see if he and his wife wanted to join the business.
As Johnson tells the story, Taylor agreed to buy on one condition: Weekly Eugene had to cover more news. “He said he wasn’t interested in owning a calendar,” Johnson says. “But over the years he has often said with some reluctance that the calendar is the most important part of the Weekly Eugene every Thursday. Add to that the sponsorships and coverage of local candidates, and it’s quite a contribution to the life of the city.
Johnson — who dislikes being called the “publisher” of a journal that operates more by consensus than any form of traditional hierarchical management — continues to play an active role in EO operations, visiting the office three or more days a week and attending weekly editorial meetings.
Fred Taylor saw his wishes come true: EO became a vital medium for Eugene and the surrounding community under the ownership of the Taylors and Johnsons.
Over the coming decades, writers of EO would tackle some of the city’s most important hot topics – ecosabotage, homelessness, rogue cops, the Occupy movement, the environment and even workplace practices at The register keeper. “Probably the most amazing stories the paper ran were written by Alan Pittman about cops who went to jail for sexual improprieties,” Johnson said.
“We did the first stories about forest mismanagement and environmental protests,” says Ted Taylor (no relation to Fred Taylor), who was EOfrom 1998 to 2016. “The Weekly served as the chief watchdog of city and county government for many years, and we published the only stories criticizing the University of Oregon’s spending on duck sports while academics suffered.
These days the Weekly finds himself in a sometimes awkward position in Eugene’s journalistic landscape. Long happy to be a mainstream alternative newspaper – a newspaper that critiques and complements mainstream mainstream news media – EO became an increasingly powerful force in Eugene’s culture and politics The GR decreased in size and influence. We’re now the only media outlet in town that makes policy recommendations, for example, and we’re the only publication with a full arts and entertainment schedule as well as previews and reviews of many shows and exhibitions.
Despite regular calls from our readers for us to take over as Eugene’s primary media outlet, EO is likely to stay true to its alternate roots, remaining small, nimble, and feisty.
“EO is as much about the future as it is about honoring our alternate past,” says Camilla Mortensen, editor since 2016. “This newspaper has launched the careers of tons of journalists through our internship program. We’ve sent former interns to news outlets across the state and nation. We sent old EO interns at The New York Times, Seattle Times, CNN and, of all places, FoxNewsJust to name a few.”
Co-owner Johnson would simply like to see the newspaper grow, without changing its mission. “Each alt paper is a different animal, depending on the community it serves. In Eugene now, demand is high for both governing body coverage and the fun and craziness of the alternative scene. It’s a big order,” she said. “In 10 years, it would be great if EO could have a lot more pages, more quality writing and photography, and a higher salary for everyone. More more more!”