ashland.news
May 19, 2024

Need for trusted journalism is more important than ever to help Oregon progress

Oregon journalists working together across the state provide one way to build trust in the media. Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle
July 3, 2022

At the Oregon Capital Chronicle, the team in recent months has taken deep dives into health care, politics and the environment

By Les Zaitz, the Oregon Capital Chronicle

The fate of news in Oregon should matter mightily to you.

Getting the facts about government, the economy, social justice and more is what it takes to make good decisions.

And those decisions affect your life – where you chose to live, the quality of teachers educating your kids, the condition of the streets you use to get to work.

Les Zaitz
Les Zaitz

But finding facts – information you can trust – is increasingly a challenge in Oregon and across the country.

I reflect on this as I finish up my stint at editor of the Oregon Capital Chronicle. This, July 1, is my last day as I retire from this duty.

I remain committed to the idea that all of us in Oregon and in the U.S. are better off with robust journalism that is rooted in accuracy and fairness. But journalist ranks have been thinning in recent years.

Fewer journalists

On average, two newspapers a week are closing in this country, a recent report found. Researchers listed one county In Oregon – remote, sparsely populated Wheeler – as the only one in the state without a local newspaper.

Newspapers are only one measure of journalism’s impact. In some places, digital news sites have emerged to fill the gap, such as the Yachats News and the Ashland.News.

And that’s why, about a year ago, I joined in the effort to launch Oregon Capital Chronicle, a statewide digital news service.

The number of reporters assigned to cover state government is a fraction of what it was 20 years ago.

Many of those still covering the state are talented and diligent. But there are just too few eyes on the agencies and public officials. Too much is getting done that you don’t know about.

The Capital Chronicle was born to change that. States Newsroom, a national nonprofit, has poured millions into opening state operations, including funding the Oregon unit.

The ambition of its leaders and mine was to give Oregonians more access to more news on state government and politics.

The resulting work has been meaningful.

Deputy Editor Lynne Terry last fall produced a powerful series looking at serious gaps in care for Oregon children needing mental health care.

Reporter Julia Shumway provided unflinching coverage of Nicholas Kristof’s run for governor, digging hard into his background despite obstacles raised by him and his campaign.

And Alex Baumhardt produced a jaw-dropping package of stories investigating how the powerful Port of Morrow evaded the efforts of a meek Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to rein in its pollution. That work was aided by a terrific partnership with the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication.

Along the way, this team of professionals kept you informed on how the state was handling the pandemic, what regulators were doing about worker safety, and provided deeply-reported profiles on the people making big decisions that affect your life.

A new editor

By the way, Lynne succeeds me as editor — a great choice of a veteran Oregon journalist to take the Capital Chronicle forward.

Part of our contribution to Oregon is delivering this news at no charge. One result is that other news organizations in the state regularly publish the work of Lynne, Julia and Alex.

That gives even more Oregonians vital state government news, and that’s good for Oregon.

You read a great deal these days about the polarization that divides Oregonians and Americans into separate camps. Yes, there is a splintering of points of view. That’s not new. That’s the history of the U.S. What’s new is the relentless spotlighting of those differences, particularly in the national media. At times, we can seem doomed.

Here in Oregon, people like to talk about the urban-rural divide, as if somehow there is a good-evil, smart-dumb matrix.

That is, of course, nonsense.

For Oregon and for journalism, I remain an optimist. (I talked about this on a recent podcast on the Oregon Bridge). I trust in the basic good nature and good sense of people. History shows that swings in political and social views can be wide, but the pendulum of political opinion eventually seems to move back to a more centrist — and representative — view.

So, perhaps, we all have to be a bit patient with ourselves, with our state and with the country. Despair is no solution.

And that brings me back to the news. As I take off my editor hat, I urge you to never stop seeking reliable, accurate sources of information. Find sources you trust. And then trust the facts. Be guided by the truth, not by polemics.

Les Zaitz is a veteran editor and investigative reporter, serving Oregon for more than 45 years. He reported for The Oregonian for 25 years and owns community newspapers and a digital news service. He is a national SPJ fellow, two-time Pulitzer finalist, including for a lengthy investigation of Mexican drug cartels in Oregon and five-time winner of Oregon’s top investigative reporting award. He has investigated corrupt state legislators, phony charities, and an international cult that moved to Oregon, and the biggest bank failure in Oregon history. He also has been active in reforming the state’s public records law and was appointed by the governor to the Oregon Public Records Advisory Council. In his spare time, he operates a ranch nestled in a national forest, feeding horses and assorted animals.

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Bert Etling

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

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