Portland’s Newspaper Wars | How The Oregonian became a Monopoly

By Jeannette Butts ::

Front page of The Oregonian on February 2, 1960

In 1950, Samuel Newhouse, a multi-millionaire from New York, purchased The Oregonian. This didn’t raise too many eyebrows as he was actively buying large publications. What did start to cause concern, though, was the fate of the Oregon Journal, Portland’s only other daily newspaper. Philip Jackson, the founder of the Oregon Journal, passed away in 1953 and just a few years later his last heir, Maria Jackson, died. This left the journal to three trustees: publisher William Knight, attorney David Davies, and a U.S. Bank of Oregon executive. Contested phrasing in Maria’s will left the fate of the Oregon Journal up in the air. Employees worried about how the trustees shape the future of the paper.

The trustees became the sole heirs of the Oregon Journal and began talks with Newhouse about possibly selling the paper so that Newhouse would own both of the daily papers in Portland. About 850 union members worked at each separate publication and on Tuesday, November 10, 1959 at 5 A.M. the union employees rallied with the Stereotypers Local 49 group and stood in solidarity picketing The Oregonian at 1320 SW Broadway St. The strike was called because both papers were jointly insisting on new contract terms that were, to the union members, very unfair. It was no secret to the employees that The Oregonian and the Oregon Journal had worked together to formulate these new contracts. The new contracts stipulated that no foremen were to be union members and that only one employee was necessary to run the newly purchased stereotyper whereas previous models needed four operators. This strike was to become the third longest newspaper strike in U.S. history.

The Oregonian headquarters on SW Broadway St. in Portland, Oregon on November 10th, 1959.

However, some Oregonians, including the members of Portland newspaper unions, the county, and state labor movement officers, began to suspect that the strike might not have been just a strike. Perhaps the Oregon Journal’s trustees had provoked the strike. What better excuse to sell the newspaper than a strike? It appeared as if Newhouse had instigated a strike in order to purchase the Oregon Journal. Unsurprisingly, in 1961 Sam I. Newhouse officially purchased the Oregon Journal. Journalists throughout the nation were paying attention to this local newspaper war. Edward J. Whelan, an executive officer of the Portland-based central labor council, stated that, “Strong evidence has been piling up that the Stereotypers and other newspaper unions were deliberately pushed into this strike to help The Oregonian carry out a plot to take over the Oregon Journal…”

Many employees at both publications were fed up with management. Unfortunately, this created a reason for those inclined towards violence to have their moment. Levi McDonald was one of the stereotypers who went on strike in November and it was he who instigated truck bombings against The Oregonian. Late in the evening on January 31st, 1960, McDonald’s hired men placed dynamite under ten Oregonian delivery trucks throughout Oregon City and Portland in an attempt to stall the delivery process. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but this bombing definitely did harm to the unions and those on strike. The Oregonian did not publish a daily paper on February 1, 1960. Locals quickly condemned the violence and the unions donated $1000 of the $2000 reward that ultimately led to McDonald’s arrest.

One of the bombed trucks | The Oregonian, published February 2nd, 1960.

It is unfortunate that some accused the unions of inciting such violence as it ultimately took away from the important conversation about independent media operations in Oregon. Two weeks after the bombing, a group of discontents emerged from the chaos to form the Portland Reporter. Editors of the paper promised “a concise, readable report” opposed to a “propaganda weapon or a publicity medium” for the strike. With their hearts in the right place, the Portland Reporter reached a peak circulation of 78,000.

On April 4, 1965 the strike finally ended. Today, Newhouse’s corporation Advance Publications continues to reap the profits of The Oregonian, which is the largest daily newspaper in the Northwest. You might also recognize the name of William Knight’s son Philip, (remember Philip Jackson, founder of the Oregon Journal? The naming is no coincidence) co-founder of Nike. It seems big business won the Portland newspaper wars.


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Music used

Feasting on the Flowers – Red Hot Chili Peppers – Intro/Outro music


Tanya Monthey, Editor
Jeffrey Stone, Contributor/Voice of Whelan