Cascadia Composers May the Fourth

Eugene Weekly fighting for its life

The paper, whose journalism includes vital arts and cultural coverage, is fighting a financial crisis allegedly caused by embezzlement, and is turning to the public for help.

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Header on the weekly newspaper's online announcement Dec. 28 that a financial crisis has forced it lay off its staff and to stop publishing its paper editions.
Header on the weekly newspaper’s online announcement Dec. 28 that a financial crisis has forced it lay off its staff and to stop publishing its paper editions.

Eugene Weekly, which has been covering news of its city and region since 1982, announced today that it has laid off its entire staff and is ceasing publication of its paper editions.

“Shortly before Christmas, we discovered that EW had been the victim of embezzlement at the hands of someone we once trusted,” the paper’s announcement said. “We are still counting up the damage, but it’s thousands upon thousands. The theft of EW’s funds remained hidden for years and has left our finances in shambles. A team of private forensic accountants is analyzing our books and accounts. We’ve reported the thefts to the Eugene Police Department, which is conducting an investigation.”

The weekly paper’s financial crisis is a major blow not just to the paper and its employees, but to its entire community and readership. Each week it has printed 30,000 copies and distributed them free. At a time when mainstream print media are in their own crisis and shrinking at an alarming rate, the loss of an independent voice such as the Weekly is doubly felt. Its potential loss is also a blow to its region’s arts and cultural communities: The Weekly has devoted major resources to covering news of Eugene’s cultural life, printing stories by several accomplished writers, including some who also contribute to Oregon ArtsWatch.

The paper’s online edition at eugeneweekly.com continues to operate for now. “Several EW staffers have volunteered to keep publishing the paper online,” today’s announcement said. “We ask for your patience as we work to restore EW to the newspaper you love.” 

Volunteer efforts, of course, can go only so far. But it’s impressive that, despite being laid off, several staff members remain devoted to the paper and are working for free, at least for now. The paper has set up a webpage for donations to help it work through its crisis, and will be adding a GoFundMe account soon. [UPDATE: A GoFundMe account, with a $188,000 goal, has been set up here.]

The alleged embezzlement, the paper said, came as a shock, and its effects spread through all of the publication’s divisions. “We’ve discovered that many companies we do business with — vendors who turned out to be very patient — haven’t been paid in months,” the announcement said. “EW employees who thought they were paying into retirement accounts have learned the money never arrived at its destination. We had to lay off the entire 10-person staff EW three days before Christmas. One of our biggest creditors, our printer, says it will print EW again only if we pay upfront.”

The paper, its community, and Oregon in general deserve better. The public benefits from a strong independent media voice in Eugene, and can ill afford to lose the one it has. “EW has been a voice in the community for 40 years,” Bob Keefer, the paper’s distinguished arts editor, said in a Facebook post. “Now it needs help from that community.”

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Cascadia Composers May the Fourth

Keefer, who was laid off with the rest of the staff, had been planning to retire in January “to devote much more time to my own art and photography,” he said. He added that he, too, will continue to help the paper through its crisis: “My retirement plan has always been to keep an office at the paper and to write occasional arts stories. It’s just working out a little differently than I expected.”

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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