Exclusive Interview by Susanne Severeid with Allen Hallmark Regarding the Petition to Challenge the Trib’s New Direction
Petition to “Save the Medford Mail Tribune from its Owner’s Changes!”
by Susanne Severeid
A few days ago, local resident and former longtime Mail Tribune reporter Allen Hallmark started a change.org petition in response to the recent editorial by owner/publisher Steven Saslow where he outlines changes he intends to make in our local paper(s). Mr. Saslow purchased the Medford Mail Tribune and Ashland Tidings four years ago.
The petition opens with a recap of some of these changes:
“On Sunday, Feb. 28th, Steve Saslow, owner/publisher of the Mail Tribune of Medford, Oregon, wrote an editorial announcing big changes in how the paper would be run. He will take over from an editorial board to decide which editorials run & which don’t. He will fire any reporter who he thinks is slanting the news. He will no longer run stories from the Washington Post or other newspapers he thinks are “slanted” toward the liberal side. He will also reject all letters to the editor on national topics because he said liberals and progressives submit 10 to 1 the number of letters that conservatives submit. He’ll only accept letters about ‘local’ and ‘regional’ issues – without defining those terms.”
I spoke with Allen Hallmark about why he feels this is so important.
A native Texan, born and raised in Fort Worth, Hallmark earned his college degree in history in the early 1960’s. He studied law, served in the Army during the Vietnam war and after four years (including one year in Vietnam), returned very much against the military and our presence in Vietnam. He got involved in war protests, became a photographer, pursued his Masters in Journalism and after landing on the west coast in search of work, got a job as a reporter at the Medford Mail Tribune in 1976. Hallmark would continue working there for over ten years, until 1986. “I enjoyed the work, covered a lot of subjects and became the main political reporter for the last five years,” he said. (Sadly, Hallmark lost his home in the Almeda fire of last September.)
Why, I asked Hallmark, are you so interested in this?
“Well, because I’m a former reporter for the Tribune and I know what it was like when I was a reporter there. It was very well-managed and a great environment for people who worked in the newsroom and other parts of the paper. We were proud of the product and thought we were doing excellent journalism. There were many fine people there like Terrie Martin, Stu Watson and many others. That’s the Tribune I come from and the one I admired. I’ve been growing more disappointed with the Tribune’s product since I moved back to the Rogue Valley in 2002. I was apprehensive when Saslow was announced as the new publisher, but he seemed to want to keep the paper alive which was a good thing, so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.”
Hallmark said he feels that the Tribune has gone downhill in recent years with the newsroom staff dwindling. While this is happening to a lot of papers because not many people can afford the subscription rates these days, he hated to see the paper in trouble. Hallmark said Saslow’s editorial about changes was the last straw. He noted that Saslow never made it crystal clear as to whether the changes would apply to both the Tribune and the Tidings.
What are Hallmark’s major concerns with Saslow’s editorial?
“Well, number one: He is threatening his reporting staff that if they write anything that HE considers to be slanted that they could lose their jobs, which will have a chilling effect on the way editors and reporters do their business. That’s a big concern — when the boss tells you your job is in jeopardy if you don’t toe the line.”
Hallmark noted that Saslow’s editorial stated that the Associated Press articles are going to be edited more closely than they have till now and he’s going to hire another editor just to edit and review the AP. “From the whole tenor of the article,” Hallmark said, “it seems to me that if that editor is going to be schooled by Saslow, he or she will find slant to edit out of the stories to suit his boss.”
Saslow says he’s going to stop using stories from the Washington Post and calls it a “slanted” newspaper and is not going to take stories from any other paper that he considers “slanted.” Hallmark noted, “A lot of those stories are travel stories, business things, or analyses. I don’t know what objections he has to those stories. Our readership is going to suffer from not having well-written stories such as those in the paper.”
Hallmark also has concerns regarding the Letters to the Editor changes. “If you had read just the portion of his editorial before it jumped to the next page, you would not have had a problem with it. Most of the stuff that I find objectionable is in the jump; in the first section he sort of boasts about how they have printed all the Letters to the Editors up till now, but then he comes up with this bull—t about how they’re going to no longer print LTEs that are about national issues and you can only submit letters about local or regional. He doesn’t define those terms. What is local or regional? Do we get to write about Salem? The Legislature? Hopefully, he means a wide region.”
Saslow also says that editorials will reflect his position in the future. Hallmark takes that to mean that he will have more authority over which run and which don’t.
What does Hallmark hope to accomplish with this petition?“Well, when I feel like it’s gotten as many signatures as it’s probably going to get, then I will send it to the Tribune and to him and see what response it gets.”
Is Hallmark optimistic that Saslow will listen or that this will change anything? “I hope so, but I have my doubts that it will. He’s a rich and powerful man, he can do what he wants, and it sounds like that’s exactly what he wants to do. He wants this paper to reflect what his beliefs are now.”
I asked Hallmark what role he thinks a local newspaper plays in a community?
“Number one: to cover local events and boards and commissions, to cover the news of the area fairly and in a balanced way. But the paper also has a role to be a guiding light to local opinion makers and help them make good decisions, and to call them on the carpet when they go astray, so that we don’t have a paper that just parrots what the Chamber of Commerce wants it to say. It should have an investigative function where reporters are given a lot more time than just a daily beat to dig into stories and find out what’s really going on with issues, which hasn’t been done in recent years by this paper. I was drawn into going into journalism because of the Watergate reporting, so that’s the kind of thing that I really tried to do the best I could, really dig into stories, you know, “follow the money.” I think that is a really important function of local newspapers.”
Hallmark sees this as part of the trend we have seen nationwide with takeovers of independent local papers by corporate, oftentimes more conservative, interests. “Sure, absolutely that’s what’s going on. The Tribune was owned before by corporate interests, by these hedge funds for a while, and that’s just a shame. My hope would be that we could somehow get some citizens together here who really want to have a free and open press in the Valley and get some people with deep pockets who wouldn’t try to control and who would contribute to a real newspaper here.”
Steven Saslow’s editorial: http://medfordmailtribune.or.newsmemory.com/?publink=149ead578
Susanne Severeid is an award-winning author, public speaker and performer with a background in international journalism.