EDITOR’S NOTE: The Chinook Observer is joining this week with publications around the U.S. to issue a warning about the ongoing assault on America’s free and independent press, one of the paramount institutions enshrined in the Constitution. We stand together in defense of our profession and the vital role it plays in government for and by the people.
News people are accustomed to having a complex relationship with public officials and the partisan citizens who side with them. In some ways, we are like the stereotyped “Internal Affairs Division” in too many television cop shows. Just as Internal Affairs generates hisses by “policing the police,” in America a free press jousts with those in power, trying hard as we can to document their deeds, misdeeds, selflessness and self-dealing.
While we work to objectively cover government, basic human nature inclines us toward feeling some sympathy toward those who share our interest in public service, along with disgust at those who abuse the public trust. We must constantly guard against becoming either too friendly or too cynical toward politicians and bureaucrats. It isn’t our job to be pals or foes.
Most American journalism is intensely local. We report on what we know best — our own towns, counties and states. Our readers tend to be interested in the same fundamental questions. Can we afford the taxes that politicians want? Are those taxes fair? How are they being spent? Are we safe? Do our kids have a decent future? Answering these questions — along with chronicling the day-to-day lives of our neighbors — is both our passion and how we make a living in this capitalist system. If we fail at this job, our readers and advertisers abandon us.
At newspapers like the Chinook Observer, we have a strong sense of alliance with the public. Citizens ask for help nearly every day, ranging from answering obscure historical questions to investigating alleged criminality or official malfeasance. Our small staff takes every one of these requests seriously, sometimes responding with background work that spans months — to the frustration of those who hope for quicker justice. Resulting coverage in recent years has included detailed reporting on Customs and Immigration Enforcement, substandard trailer parks, the hidden factors that lead to ocean drownings, a public utility bulldozing a tribal burial ground, and on and on.
Our family-owned newspaper group has partnered with another to dramatically increase news coverage of Oregon government in Salem. We constantly watch for other opportunities to be useful during a time of dramatic changes in the U.S.
We’re proud of our work. But we’re the first to admit these efforts are not very remarkable in a nation that, despite our industry’s well-documented economic challenges, still possesses a vibrant and dedicated news corps. From one end of the U.S. to the other, journalists are engaged in a moment by moment quest to improve government accountability and tell the stories of this great land.
The Chinook Observer isn’t your enemy. Neither is the rest of the American press. Be annoyed all you want at errors we make, or if we exhibit instances of bias, insensitivity or laziness. But don’t believe anybody who says we’re pursuing any agenda, other than digging out the truth and reporting it as well as we can.
Most of all, we are proud of our communities. We stand shoulder to shoulder with you in striving to keep alive the great American experiment in democracy. We need you with us.