Mail Tribune moving to online-only format
The Mail Tribune will print its last newspaper Friday, Sept. 30, and move to a completely electronic format beginning in October, according to owner and publisher Steven Saslow.
“I made a commitment to the Rogue Valley to keep a printed newspaper as long as we could break even. We eclipsed that a long time ago,” said Saslow, who bought the newspaper five years ago.
He said the costs of printing and delivering a physical newspaper threaten to bring down the whole enterprise and destroy a news product that’s existed for more than 100 years. In addition to the labor costs for printing and delivering newspapers, the price of newsprint keeps going up, and fewer and fewer companies sell the specialty paper.
The Medford Mail was founded in 1888 and merged with its newspaper rival the Medford Daily Tribune in 1909.
Saslow said the online Mail Tribune gets 1.8 million to 2.3 million views per month. Online readers eclipse print readers by a three-to-one margin, he said.
In August 2021, the Mail Tribune went from printing the newspaper seven days a week to printing four days per week while continuing to publish new content to its website seven days a week.
It will keep publishing new articles, photos and other content online every day, Saslow said.
After the switch to a four-days-per-week printing schedule last year, Saslow said, many fans of the print edition got used to viewing the paper electronically on nonprint days at mailtribune.com.
Readers can click on stories directly or use the e-edition that mimics the layout of a printed newspaper. Either way, stories open up and display larger words that are easier to read than the relatively small print of newspapers.
Saslow said he knows many readers will be disappointed when the Mail Tribune stops printing and delivering newspapers.
“I’m sure a lot of people will be unhappy. People like me and older grew up with a physical newspaper,” he said.
A subscription that includes a printed, delivered newspaper is $4.99 per week, compared with the $1.99 cost per week for the online edition only.
People who have prepaid for a subscription that includes printed newspapers will have their subscription converted to online-only at the online-only price. That will extend the length of their subscription because of the cheaper online-only price, Saslow said.
Readers who decide they don’t want a subscription at all if there is no printed newspaper can get a prorated refund, he said.
But Saslow said he hopes readers will stick with the Mail Tribune and keep supporting local journalism.
About 15 people involved in printing the newspaper will be laid off, and about 40 newspaper delivery drivers who are independent contractors will no longer have work with the Mail Tribune. The company will have about 40 to 50 people left in departments that include the newsroom and advertising, Saslow said.
He told staff members and contractors last week about the coming changes.
“I want to put more money back into reporters and expand coverage. The most important thing is that the integrity of the product will not change. It will only get better when we can redeploy resources to more reporters and better coverage. It’s become very obvious we can survive rather than sticking to a printed product, which will put us out of business,” Saslow said.
He said the Mail Tribune provides in-depth local news every day that people don’t get from television or radio.
Saslow said it has become increasingly difficult to find enough people to deliver newspapers. They have to pick up the printed papers around 10 p.m. and work until about 6 a.m. delivering the papers throughout the Rogue Valley.
“You are out all night long,” he said.
Decades ago, Saslow said, it was relatively safe to be out in the community making deliveries at night, but that is no longer the case. Drivers have been confronted and are sometimes at risk.
In 2016, a Rogue River man was sentenced to a decade in prison after chasing and shooting at two Mail Tribune newspaper carriers who were delivering newspapers at 5:30 a.m. One bullet flew about 3 inches from a carrier’s head. The shooter’s defense attorney said he was high on methamphetamine and hallucinating the newspaper carriers had kidnapped his father.
Saslow said subscribers generally want to read their physical newspaper in the morning, so he decided against transitioning the newspaper into an afternoon or evening product that would allow delivery drivers to work during the day. That change also wouldn’t have alleviated the expense of printing and delivering the paper.
Long term, Saslow said, he doesn’t know yet if the online-only Mail Tribune will be free and supported completely through advertising, or if it will continue to require subscriptions. Newspapers have traditionally relied on a mix of subscriptions and advertising for revenue.
Saslow said the Mail Tribune could move to a hybrid model offering some content free with some premium content requiring a subscription.
In conversations so far with advertisers, he said they have been generally understanding about the need for the Mail Tribune to be online-only.
Saslow said national chain stores that used to pay for multipage advertising inserts in newspapers have slashed that advertising, which used to account for a major share of advertising revenue. The loss of inserts has been another blow to the newspaper industry’s ability to print and deliver papers.
In addition to news coverage, the online Mail Tribune will keep offering popular features such as comics, puzzles, sports coverage and information about entertaining things to do.
The online edition doesn’t currently offer as much state, national and international news as the print edition.
Saslow said the online edition will start offering more news from outside the area along with local news. Upgrades to the Mail Tribune website are coming in the next several months, and the format for viewing content on a smartphone will improve.
“This is a catharsis-like change for all of us. I thank everybody for their support. I thank everybody for their patience with us,” Saslow said. “I feel very thankful that this community will not be without the resource of the Mail Tribune.”