In 1950, the Drain Enterprise was established. It chronicled community events, deaths, births, reported on local issues and relayed the business of the government to Drain residents. But when Drain Mayor and Enterprise publisher Sue Anderson grew ill, the newspaper office on First Street closed its doors, ending the only news source within a 20-mile radius.
“We don’t do the Christmas tree lightings anymore because no one comes because we can’t get the word out,” said Patti Akins.
That’s about to change.
Akins, who owns a real estate business in Drain, is funding the majority of a new community newspaper. The Community News will be direct-mailed to every household in Drain and be made up of a combination of submissions and articles written by the small staff.
“It’s based on articles and stories that come into us,” Akins said. “We’re not going out and looking because we don’t have the staff.”
The eight-page publication will mark the first newspaper specifically for Drain since the Enterprise’s final publication some three years ago.
“I was out in the community and I heard over and over again, ‘We don’t know what’s going on, we don’t know what’s going on.’” Akins said. “A lot of elderly don’t use Facebook. Everyone said they wanted it but no one stepped up to the plate money-wise because we don’t have money here. We’re poor — it’s a poor town.”
And while Drain is on the cusp of regaining its local newspaper, it wasn’t alone in losing it to begin with.
A study released earlier this year by the University of North Carolina’s School of Media and Journalism reported more than 1,300 communities have lost all of their local news coverage giving way to buy-outs, close-outs and mergers. Some, like the Enterprise, shut down due to lack of funds as traditional print business models continue to see declining revenue.
“Our sense of community and democracy at all levels suffers when journalism is lost or diminished,” the study’s researchers wrote. “In an age of fake news and divisive politics, the fate of communities across the country, and of grassroots democracy itself, in linked to the vitality of local journalism.”
The lack of readily available, local information leading to a decline in community participation is a large part of the reason Akins has opted to embark on such a project.
“Even voter turnout is affected,” she said of the absence of local news. “I think part of it is that people don’t know. They just don’t know.”
In the absence of local newspapers, communities haven taken to the internet and social media. In Drain, the Facebook page Drain Oregon Community Board has nearly 500 members and provides information about job openings, photos of missing pets and property, as well as announcements about upcoming events. But a 2017 count has the population of Drain at approximately 1,200, meaning more than half of the city’s residents aren’t hooked up to the local news source.
“I’m surprised how many people don’t use the internet and don’t use computers here. It’s far more than I would have guessed,” Akins said. “We’re at 65 percent rentals here and I am surprised even by the renters. They just can’t afford it.”
The Community News is hoping to fill the void left by the growing internet groups and shrinking local coverage. There’s no subscription fee but residents who want to purchase a copy in addition to the one they receive in the mail can do so. Akins plans to print 500 extra copies a month.
And even though Akins says the staff is small, she still hopes to cover Drain, Yoncalla and Elkton by counting on residents to submit information. In addition, an entire page will be dedicated to the local school with information provided by the district.
“I feel our communities losing touch,” Akins said. “They don’t get involved because they don’t know what’s going on and we hope the community comes back together. The communities wanted this back.”
The first edition of the Community News was mailed out to residents on Nov. 21.
For more information or to receive a newspaper contact Akins at [email protected]