Editorial: Responsible news coverage still has critical role in community

I recently received a professional publication with the title “The Future of Local News” emblazoned across the cover.

This isn’t new. It’s no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention that there’s been a lot of angst in recent years among news professionals and academics over the challenges facing newspapers.

Add to that our concern over the “fake news” phenomenon (which really isn’t new either) and plummeting favor ratings towards the media in the wake of the election and it does look like a dark world.

Granted, social media have created a lot of challenges for more traditional news organizations. While they certainly have their positives, the ease with which people can post absolutely false information – gossip, hunches, rumors, exaggerations or bold-faced lies – is scary.

I’ve been involved in journalism for nearly 40 years, starting as a sportswriter as a kid in Grants Pass. I’ve seen the “good” times – in the 1970s and ’80s, when newspapers and other “mainstream” media were rolling in dough prior to the advent of the Internet.

And, of course, I’ve spent a lot of my career in tougher circumstances.

As I flipped through that journal, glancing at the article titles, I was struck by one map that illustrated where the “news deserts” are in America – places where there’s no daily local news outlet at all. About a third of eastern Oregon falls into this category –the largest geographical area within a state in the Northwest.

I was also struck by a page that listed all the newspapers in the U.S. that have shut down in the last 10 years. There were more than 50 names, the large majority “hometown” newspapers. Newspapers that, for whatever reason, couldn’t stay open any longer.

Another interesting feature of this journal was a largely blank page, an advertisement for a journalists support organization, emblazed starkly with the words, “Without journalists, this would be your front page” starkly emblazoned on it. I thought to myself when I saw it, “Yeah, the same could be said for newspapers: ‘Without a local newspaper, this would be your flow of credible information.’”

Though I’m not much of a neutral party here, since I publish newspapers for a living, I’m the first to tell you that journalists are not perfect. Covering news can be a crazy, pressure-filled, seat-of-the-pants operation. Circumstances can be very averse. We get things wrong sometimes – but when we do we run corrections or clarifications.

In this age when it’s getting harder and harder to trust what we hear, I’m convinced there’s a need – and a future – for credible, responsible, objective-as-possible community news.

It takes investment, commitment and relationship to make it happen.

Now, on to one other item, business, item: We plan to start beefing up the content of our website, lebanonlocalnews.com, and that will include a paywall.

Current subscribers, and there are an increasing number of you (thanks!), are welcome to call us at (541) 367-2136 and we’ll set you up with a log-in. New subscribers can visit the website, hit “Subscribe,” and sign up.

We’re here because local news is important.  We’ve really appreciated hearing from all of the readers who enthusiastically  agree.