Campaign of disinformation won’t relieve anger

I have never read anything so lacking in journalistic integrity as the opinion in last week’s edition of The Chronicle. 

Normally, I wouldn’t respond to such a juvenile tirade but the piece is so full of lies, distortions and half-truths that it not only maligns the county commissioners, but left unanswered it could harm our business. 

Let’s look at the real facts behind the Chronicle’s accusations.

The Chronicle claims the commissioners awarded the contract for legal notice publishing without reading the bids. I was personally present at the opening and the bid award meetings. Commissioner Mary Lou Peterson read each bid out loud on the day of the opening. Each commissioner said they needed time to study the bids and then voted to postpone the award decision. Newspaper bids can be difficult to understand because every newspaper uses different layout styles as well as type fonts and sizes that can affect the actual cost of the advertisement. Okanogan County does a very good job of constructing their bid specifications to take that into consideration and make the resulting bids comparable. In fact, when I approached Douglas County about a bid for their legal notice advertising last year, I recommended they contact Okanogan County to find out how the bid process should work. 

At the award meeting, the commissioners looked at the bids, concluded that our bid was the lowest and awarded the bid to us because the county is experiencing difficult economic times and they decided they needed to take advantage of our lower cost of service to the county. That was a responsible decision. 

This was not the first time that we have provided this service to the county. Our newspaper, The Okanogan Valley Gazette-Tribune, was the newspaper of record for the county for several years before The Chronicle was awarded the contract last year. The Chronicle attempts to imply that only the newspaper with the largest circulation should be designated the newspaper of record. If that were the case no bid would actually be required. The newspaper with the largest circulation would win and could charge anything they want. The law says, “giving consideration to the circulation.” Lawyers do not use such vague language without purpose. The purpose of the “newspaper of record” bid process is to eliminate duplication of costs and to notify residents where to look for important public notices. It does not require the commissioners to choose the newspaper with the largest circulation.

The Chronicle claims the commissioners awarded the contract to an “out of county company with little local management.” They either are totally ignorant of their competition or they are desperate to find a way to attack us. This is particularly ironic considering The Chronicle is owned by Eagle Newspapers of Salem, Oregon. Myself, my wife and our partners Jeff and Audrey Walter, who live in Brewster, own NCW Media, Inc. The Walter’s daughter Abby Gardner is our office manager in Oroville and she will be the primary contact for county agencies placing legal notices. Yes, we own five newspapers from Leavenworth to Oroville. We print our newspapers at our plant in Chelan. Our circulation department is in Brewster and accounting is in Cashmere. But we have sales and editorial offices in Oroville, Brewster, Chelan, Cashmere and Leavenworth. We also have a separate reporter assigned to Tonasket where we are contemplating opening another office when the economy improves. In all we have 30 employees, 10 of which are employed in Okanogan County. In addition to our five newspapers we publish 4 separate regional visitors guides and each newspaper has its own web site. We have deep roots in North Central Washington and in Okanogan County. The Chronicle on the other hand sends a good chunk of their Okanogan profits to Wenatchee for printing services and of course another good chunk goes to Mr. Harnack’s corporate handlers in Salem.

The circulation comparisons in The Chronicle’s opinion are particularly egregious. Especially where they include their 2,425 “county residents” that buy their paper off the newsstand, but totally dismiss our newsstand sales as irrelevant to the analysis. And how they know that their newsstand sales are to county residents and not somebody passing through from Idaho or Canada is dubious. 

The facts of the case are simple. Our bid will save the county at least 33% over what The Chronicle would charge.

I hate to engage my readers in this internecine warfare, but the opinion as published by The Chronicle is so dishonest and replete with inaccuracies as to be libelous. It raises serious questions about their journalistic integrity but more importantly it unfairly portrays our company in ways that could be harmful to our ability to serve our customers.

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