A look inside River Reflections - 1982
Better than hearing it on the grapevine!
by Rick and Kristi Steber
We are trying to form a communications link for everyone who lives from Walterville to McKenzie Pass, a voice for the people to speak through."
Ken and his wife Louise are the publisher-editors of McKenzie River Reflections, a weekly newspaper published every Friday in Blue River. The eight-page tabloid has chronicled the activities and happenings on the river since 1978, and in that time it has been cursed, praised, ignored and read every week. In short, it has been a success.
"I borrowed $75 from Ken to rent a typewriter and pay the printing bill for the first issue of Reflections," recalls Louise. "It made money from the start, although everything has gone back into the paper. We're looking for a headliner and a camera machine now; we keep growing."
The newspaper was founded on the Englemans' dining room table and came out twice a month. When it got so they couldn't walk through the house without bits of paper clinging to socks and they tired of eating off laps, they moved the paper to an office in Blue River.
They might as well have moved their home, too, because most of their time is spent with the newspaper. If they aren't in Blue River, they probably are driving up and down the river selling ads and interviewing for articles.
The newspaper office has become an information center for people looking for jobs, a place to live or directions to blueberry patches. People stop in to boast over the results of a classified ad or to buy a paper. Sometimes they ignore the change Ken offers for their dollar bill. One subscriber who gets Reflections in the mail every Friday usually comes down to buy another in midweek because he "lost" his television section.
Many people support McKenzie River Reflections and want to see it continue; others think there may be better uses for the paper, such as starting fires on cold mornings.
"We wrote an editorial about businesses on the river who didn't realize there were four seasons," says Ken. "They made money on tourists in summer and did nothing for the locals the rest of the year. Their bad service hurt all the good businesses and gave the community a bad name.
"One businessman evidently thought we were writing the editorial expressly for him, and he called all the stores who sold the paper for us and tried to talk them out of carrying it.
"A 65-year-old lady delivers our papers, and we knew what she was going to run into so we hired Capone's Limousine Service from Eugene to take her around. Their drivers carry machine guns and they don't smile or talk. They drove to all the stores and escorted this little old lady in with her newspapers. It improved sales."
The newspaper and its publishers had another run-in with the Blue River water board. According to Ken, a comfy friendly group had been running things for quite some time; they held their meetings in each other's homes and didn't always remember to tell the public when they met. They became unfriendly when Ken tried to report on the meetings, and went so far as to say McKenzie River Reflections was not a legal newspaper.
"Ken turned them in to the District Attorney, who informed the board of the proper duties and responsibilities of office," Louise says. "Now meeting notices are published in advance in the paper and Ken tapes all meetings he attends."
Ken and Louise don't try to stir controversy with Reflections; many issues do not carry an editorial. Ken is more interested in writing about the people and the history of the valley, Louise in laying out an easy-to-read paper.
They would rather have their readers write letters for the editorial page. Ken and Louise feel their role is providing a forum for river residents, an opportunity for them to speak on what is important.
The publishers played a back-seat role a few years ago when they decided Blue River needed a celebration and promoted the idea of a 4th of July parade.
"The first year everyone bunched together and it was gone in about two minutes," Louise laughs. "The second year it was more spread out, lasted about half an hour. The next year we had a loudspeaker and a band; people are talking about their parade now."
"We want to be able to see what needs to be done, then make people aware of possibilities," Ken adds.
"We're the only paper in the McKenzie Valley, the only one that tells basic information about our area, things that affect us instead of people living in Springfield and Eugene."
Curiously, it is the businesses in Springfield and Eugene that are supporting the paper with advertising. Ken has found it difficult to sell ads to local businesses.
"They don't understand what advertising is. They make excuses -they don't have enough money, or they have too much business already. Yeah, too much business. We can get a contract signed in Eugene in half an hour. Here, you can talk for three hours and they argue the whole time that advertising doesn't work, then they try one ad and it doesn't work."
"We probably have the cheapest display advertising rates in Oregon," Louise says. "Springfield News is three times higher, the Register-Guard is more than five times. Our classified ads are a nickel a word, and if an ad runs three times we give the fourth issue free.
"The problem is, people want to advertise only once. They come in Thursday morning with their ad, the paper is published Friday and their sale is Saturday. We can't print it that late, and if we did, who would see it?"
The Engelmans realize other publishers have similar problems. They are thinking of sponsoring a conference for publishers and editors of small newspapers, bringing them to the river to bang heads together, shake out new ideas, learn a different slant.
"You can get too stuck in one spot. You need to get out, discover new thoughts, build up energy,” says Ken. "Reflections is growing, and we want to grow with it."
Image above: Ken and Louise Engelman of McKenzie River Reflections
This article appeared in the February, 1982 issue of the Ruralite, from Lane Electric Cooperative.
McKenzie River Reflections