I have been in the journalism profession off and on for the better part of 40 years. I have had paid journalism positions and have done freelance writing. I currently freelance for the Wallowa County Chieftain, and some of the other newspapers in the EO Media Group. I have a degree in journalism, and in the interest of full disclosure, I by choice receive no compensation for any of this work.
Over the years, many communities have lost their local newspapers. Thousands of newspapers across this country have gone out of business due to lack of advertising revenue, drops in subscriptions and people receiving their news online or from other sources. Newsrooms, large and small, have been cut to the bone with major staff reductions. Wallowa County is lucky to continue to have a local newspaper.
Over the years, I have heard many negative remarks about our local newspaper. It has been called a “rag” and worse. People say it does not contain enough local news or there is nothing worth reading. Others say it is full of mistakes, or that the news and facts are “made up.” I have been told people won’t talk to reporters from the Chieftain because they have been “burned” through being misquoted. To those people I can only say, I’m sorry that happened. You deserve to have your names spelled correctly (and those of your children and families’) and to have your words represented accurately in your newspaper when you are interviewed.
I guess the comments about the lack of local news, or there is nothing worth reading are a matter of perspective, and certainly of opinion, and as we all know, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. I’ve also heard people who move here say there is nothing to do, which as we all know, is not true. The last several issues have contained extensive coverage of the county fair, Chief Joseph Days, the community’s response to COVID, the start of new business ventures and many local events, such as the car shows and others. There is coverage of school sports and local government. The Chieftain only has one reporter and the editor to cover news of Wallowa County, along with a couple of freelance writers. They cannot be everywhere at once.
Journalists are human and they make mistakes. They try as much as possible to be as accurate and objective as possible, but mistakes happen. And they realize they need to be held accountable for those mistakes, and when possible, make them right.
As to the assertion that the news and facts are “made up,” that is simply not true. Some people will not believe this and will continue to believe that journalists make things up to sell more newspapers, or to satisfy some hidden agenda, and that is their choice. These are the people who believe in the concept of “fake news.” There is no such thing. There are other words for “fake news” — lies and fabrication. Simply not agreeing with something in the news or a certain point of view, does not make it “fake news.” In all my years in journalism, I have never known anyone who wrote “fake news” — ever. If a journalist is caught making something up, that journalist would lose their job. Period. They would also be hard pressed to find another in their field. The world of journalism is small. Word travels fast and an unethical journalist is not welcome in any newsroom.
To people in our community who have not read the Chieftain in some time, I say pick up a copy or two and read it. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you read. And, if you think you are not getting what you want from your community newspaper, pick up the phone and call the editor and tell him what you want to see in the newspaper. Suggest stories, offer news tips, tell him about interesting things you’ve seen, heard about or people you know that you think other people might find interesting.
In other words, be proactive, not passive. Your community newspaper is only as good as its community helps make it.