JPR news director and Ashland.news editor featured in virtual forum Sunday

Ashland.news Executive Editor Bert Etling, left, and JPR interim News Director Erik Neumann take part in a Jefferson Center discussion Sunday.
July 7, 2022

‘Local journalism: Covering conflicts and controversies in our communities’

Two local journalists will discuss the challenges and dilemmas journalists confront as they cover contentious local issues in a virtual forum hosted by The Jefferson Center on Sunday afternoon, July 10.

The role of media in community controversies, conflicts, and disagreements are up for discussion with two experienced local journalists: Bert Etling, formerly editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings and now founding executive editor of the news website Ashland.news, and Erik Neumann, interim news director at Jefferson Public Radio.

The free event is set for 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, July 10, on Zoom. Advance registration is required and may be done on The Jefferson Center’s website at thejeffcenter.org.

Local journalists often face difficult choices like these, and their coverage may reverberate in relatively small communities. They may feel squeezed between the goals of full and accurate reporting and avoiding offense to some segments of the community. This is especially true if those they might offend are powerful, influential and can exert pressure on media to soften their stance.

Talk organizers suggest potential scenarios could include these: Imagine that a major toxic waste site is discovered on land slated for redevelopment in Medford, and attributed to negligent practices by a major employer with political influence in the region. As its extent becomes clear, the costs of remediating it rise so high that the company’s future is jeopardized. Should local reporters play down the seriousness of the situation, in the interest of preserving jobs and the company’s reputation? Will they be vulnerable to pressures or threats? How can they respond to them?

Or consider issues like vaccinations and 5G towers, which have aroused vocal opposition from some people, including government officials, based mostly on arguments and data that some call unsound. How should journalists handle coverage of such controversies? Do “both sides” deserve equal consideration in these cases? How far should reporters go in refuting bogus claims?

Or, on perhaps less serious matters, suppose a performing arts reviewer attends a play at Oregon Shakespeare Festival (or another local theater, or another arts event) and finds it mediocre or just plain awful. Perhaps a sports reporter watches the standards for a high school or Southern Oregon University team deteriorate to the point of incompetence in coaching. Or, a popular local restaurant serves up poor food to a reviewer. Candid reporting risks offending some in the community, but reviews that aren’t honest or forthright can undermine the integrity of the reporters and their media organizations.

Etling edited the Ashland Daily Tidings from 2014 to 2019. Before that, he edited The Cambrian, a weekly newspaper in Cambria, California, published by the San Luis Obispo Tribune, where he garnered awards for editorial writing and newspaper design, and also edited the Santa Ynez Valley News, the Solvang, California, paper where he began his community journalism career in 1982. Etling holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Stanford University.

Neumann is interim news director at Jefferson Public Radio. He earned a master’s degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at National Public Radio (NPR) member station KUER in Salt Lake City. Neumann has a diverse range of experience in public radio — reporter, host, producer of live events, and teacher of radio production to young people at Youth Radio in Oakland.

The talk is part of a series of speakers hosted by The Jefferson Center, a Rogue Valley nonprofit focused on critical thinking using humanist values to understand and engage with issues important to our community in the spirit of Jeffersonian ideals of rational inquiry and disciplined thought.

For more information, email Tony Davis at tonydavis0@gmail.com.

Source: News release from The Jefferson Center. Email Ashland.news Executive Editor Bert Etling at betling@ashland.news or call or text him at 541-631-1313.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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