Change is a constant, and newsrooms are not immune to it.
Our latest reporter, Kaleb Lay, departs to finish his college degree. We have a multimedia journalist who starts next week. That position came about with the departure of former sports editor Ronald Bond taking the editor position at the Wallowa County Chieftain. The multimedia journalist will benefit not just The Observer but also our related EO Media Group newspapers in Eastern Oregon. And we’re working to fill the vacancy that Lay’s departure creates.
For you, readers, that could mean seeing more state or national news on the front page for a couple weeks. I’ve not been keen on doing that often because I want to reserve the front page for as much local news as possible.
Some readers, however, have clamored for more national news on the front. This job isn’t about pleasing everybody.
As we bring on new reporters and get them going, I will continue to push The Observer newsroom to focus more on issues. I remain keen on an issues-based approach to local reporting. The pandemic derailed that effort as much as it helped it because the pandemic has become the issue touching on every part of our lives. (Perhaps greater than we realize. NPR on Friday morning, Feb. 5, reported a new mathematical calculation out of Columbia University shows the true number of active cases — the people still infectious — is 10 times the number that show up in daily case reports.)
But much more remains to pursue. Homelessness and housing — or the lack of housing — are crucial to cover. We have not even scratched the surface on local government spending. U.S. Census data can provide a valuable pool of information. And we need to continue to rely on public records and push for public records for news stories.
Yes, city council meetings and school board meetings and county commissioner meetings can be important, and some readers have wanted us to spend more time covering them. But I’m not convinced that detailing the minutiae of these meetings is the best use of a newsroom’s time, especially in an operation as small as ours.
A good meeting precede, however, can be beneficial. Making moves to do more to let people know why a meeting matters is better than telling them only the decisions made by a local government body.
Figuring out what issues matter to the community is more difficult because of the virus. Back when 2020 looked to be no more unusual than usual for an election year, the newspaper planned to have a meeting with select readers. We also talked of an open house after moving into the building at 911 Jefferson Ave., just a couple blocks from downtown La Grande. Both would have been good ways to gain feedback. Both have yet to happen, of course.
So beyond letters to the editor, we need you, readers, more than ever, to send us your suggestions, story ideas and to let us know the issues you consider important.
Do keep the letters coming as well. But please, don’t just drop one off or send one in the mail without a phone number. We need to be able to verify letters.
I have some sitting right now on my desk that we won’t run without being able to verify them.