Oregon Public Broadcasting partners with Lookout Local to bring more news to Eugene

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The renovated OPB building at night

Devin Dousay/OPB

OPB's headquarters in Portland.

A new online news source will aim to improve local coverage in Eugene, Ore., with a boost from Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

OPB CEO Steve Bass said he is in “deep collaboration” on the Lookout Eugene-Springfield digital news site with public-benefit, for-profit company Lookout Local and its founder and CEO Ken Doctor. 

The Lookout Santa Cruz news site debuted in 2020. Lookout Eugene-Springfield is expected to launch late this year or early next year. 

Doctor describes Lookout as a “community newspaper that happens to be digital.” The plan is for the Oregon operation to employ 20 people, with 15 in the newsroom. 

Bass and Doctor presented their plans to help fill the gap left in Eugene by declines in traditional newspaper staffing to CPB’s Board of Directors in a public meeting April 11. They are asking CPB to provide about $400,000 to support two reporting positions for a couple of years, according to Bass. 

Bass and Doctor have known each other for about 15 years and previously considered starting a digital news organization in Bend, Ore., more than four years ago when the Bend Bulletin filed for bankruptcy, Bass told the CPB board. 

Bass said he called Doctor about Eugene because of a serious need in that community. 

“[Eugene] literally became, not quite overnight but close, Oregon’s largest news desert,” Bass said at the meeting. “… The Register-Guard went from being perhaps Oregon’s most effective and one of its largest newspapers to having a news staff of, we think, somewhere between five and seven.”

OPB has about 9,000 to 10,000 members in Eugene, most of whom are more focused on its TV service, Bass said. OPB’s radio operation isn’t as strong in Eugene, he said. 

In an interview with Current, Bass said OPB’s board is focused on contributing to a more effective news ecosystem in the region.

“I think that if we were to think about our mandate in terms of universal access and universal service, these kinds of partnerships further these aims,” Bass said, adding that a large part of the public has disconnected by choice. “If we’re going to serve the public, we’re going to have to serve it in new and different ways.”

Bass is interested in OPB potentially partnering on business and distribution opportunities with Lookout, such as co-branded newsletters, but specifics on those collaborations are still being worked out. There could be a way to have an OPB membership add-on for members to get access to Lookout.  

OPB already shares content with other news outlets, which would also be part of the Lookout partnership.

Doctor said that wouldn’t mean just reposting stories but would involve connecting the dots on local, regional and statewide issues.

“All of us have to experiment as the world changes around us,” Bass said. 

The Lookout model is to use donations to start the newsroom before transitioning to revenue from readers and advertisers, Doctor said. 

He said Lookout is trying to raise $4 million to successfully launch the Eugene-Springfield operation, with more than $2.5 million raised through donors so far. Those Lookout donors have a good overlap with OPB supporters, Bass said at the CPB meeting. 

Doctor’s plan is to use the funds to offer good compensation to experienced journalists. 

“We think we need to build it to last and to bring in people who then the readers can trust,” Doctor said. 

CPB board member Liz Sembler asked during the meeting about maintaining nonpartisanship versus endorsing candidates, which Lookout does. 

“There are a lot of things we’re going to do together, and there are some things we are going to do separately,” Bass answered. “For example, no, we do not endorse candidates. We don’t have opinion pages. We don’t do op-eds at OPB. I am perfectly comfortable with Lookout doing that because, in effect, all of the partnerships we do with commercial media are with entities that already do that.”

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