Embezzlement of Oregon weekly newspaper’s funds forces it to lay off entire staff and halt print

Dec 31, 2023, 7:43 PM | Updated: 7:46 pm

A red Eugene Weekly newspaper distributor box stands outside its office in Eugene, Ore. on Friday, ...

A red Eugene Weekly newspaper distributor box stands outside its office in Eugene, Ore. on Friday, Dec. 29, 2023. The weekly newspaper had to lay off its entire staff three days before Christmas and halt print because its funds were embezzled by a former employee, its editor said. The Eugene police are investigating and the paper's owners have hired forensic accountants to piece together what happened. (Todd Cooper via AP)

(Todd Cooper via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon weekly newspaper has had to lay off its entire staff and halt print after 40 years because its funds were embezzled by a former employee, its editor said, in a devastating blow to a publication that serves as an important source of information in a community that, like many others nationwide, is struggling with growing gaps in local news coverage.

About a week before Christmas, the Eugene Weekly found inaccuracies in its bookkeeping, editor Camilla Mortensen said. It discovered that a former employee who was “heavily involved” with the paper’s finances had used its bank account to pay themselves $90,000 since at least 2022, she said.

The paper also became aware of at least $100,000 in unpaid bills — including to the paper’s printer — stretching back several months, she said.

Additionally, multiple employees, including Mortensen, realized that money from their paychecks that was supposed to be going into retirement accounts was never deposited.

When the paper realized it couldn’t make the next payroll, it was forced to lay off all of its 10 staff members and stop its print edition, Mortensen said. The alternative weekly, founded in 1982, printed 30,000 copies each week to distribute for free in Eugene, the second-largest city in the state and home to the University of Oregon.

“To lay off a whole family’s income three days before Christmas is the absolute worst,” Mortensen said, expressing her sense of devastation. “It was not on my radar that anything like this could have happened or was happening.”

The suspected employee had worked for the paper for about four years and has since been fired, Mortensen said.

The Eugene police department’s financial crimes unit is investigating, and the paper’s owners have hired forensic accountants to piece together what happened, she said.

Brent Walth, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon, said he was concerned about the loss of a paper that has had “an outsized impact in filling the widening gaps in news coverage” in Eugene. He described the paper as an independent watchdog and a compassionate voice for the community, citing its obituaries of homeless people as an example of how the paper has helped put a human face on some of the city’s biggest issues.

He also noted how the paper has made “an enormous difference” for journalism students seeking internships or launching their career. He said there were feature and investigative stories that “the community would not have had if not for the weekly’s commitment to make sure that journalism students have a place to publish in a professional outlet.”

A tidal wave of closures of local news outlets across the country in recent decades has left many Americans without access to vital information about their local governments and communities and has contributed to increasing polarization, said Tim Gleason, the former dean of the University of Oregon’s journalism school.

“The loss of local news across the country is profound,” he said. “Instead of having the healthy kind of community connections that local journalism helps create, we’re losing that and becoming communities of strangers. And the result of that is that we fall into these partisan camps.”

An average of 2.5 newspapers closed per week in the U.S. in 2023, according to researchers at Northwestern University. Over 200 counties have no local news outlet at all, they found, and more than half of all U.S. counties have either no local news source or only one remaining outlet, typically a weekly newspaper.

Despite being officially unemployed, Eugene Weekly staff have continued to work without pay to help update the website and figure out next steps, said Todd Cooper, the paper’s art director. He described his colleagues as dedicated, creative, hardworking people.

“This paper is definitely an integral part of the community, and we really want to bring it back and bounce back bigger and better if we can,” he said.

The paper has launched a fundraising effort that included the creation of a GoFundMe page. As of Friday afternoon — just one day after the paper announced its financial troubles — the GoFundMe had raised more than $11,000.

Now that the former employee suspected of embezzlement has been fired, “we have a lot of hope that this paper is going to come back and be self-sustaining and go forward,” he said.

“Hell, it’ll hopefully last another 40 years.” ___ This story was first published on Dec. 29, 2023. It was updated on Dec. 31, 2023 to correct that Eugene is Oregon’s second-largest city, not the third.

KSL 5 TV Live


yellow tape crossing blue and red lights...

Associated Press

Body parts of 2 people found in Long Island park and police are trying to identify them

Police on New York's Long Island were trying to identify human remains found in a popular suburban park that appear to be from a man and a woman.

21 hours ago

Pair of handcuffs on a black bacthroom...

Alexander Campbell

Washington County man calls police on self, gets arrested for stolen firearms

A teenager is off the streets after calling in to St. George Police and giving them his approximate location Friday, leading to a guns-drawn arrest.

1 day ago

Two victims in a Hit-and-run in Sugarhouse speak to KSL News on Friday. (Emma Benson, KSL News)...

Emma Benson

Sugar House hit and run victims speak out

Two Sugar House women are speaking out after they were involved in a hit-and-run.

1 day ago

A picture of the dead, Provo Police officer Joseph Shinners, that was being used in the courtroom o...

Emily Ashcraft,

Attorneys urge jury to consider intent in trial for man accused of murdering Provo officer

The trial for the man accused of murdering Joseph Shinners began Friday. Matt Hoover's attorneys said he meant to shoot himself that fateful day, not Shinners.

1 day ago

Layton High School (KSL TV)...

Michael Houck

Layton High School student in custody after being found with a gun on school grounds

Police arrested a student after he was found with a weapon while at Layton High School Friday morning.

2 days ago


Alexander Campbell

Second man arrested in Logan child rape sting in a month

A 27-year-old man is behind bars in Cache County after attempting to traffic who he believed was a 9-year-old girl, using the same methods that Logan police used to arrest another person on Feb. 7

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Embezzlement of Oregon weekly newspaper’s funds forces it to lay off entire staff and halt print