This last year was some good training ground for a new editor.
Not that I wouldn’t have minded an easier 2020, but it sure helped The Observer newsroom hone its edge some, and rather than avoid stories of conflict, we dug into them. Our selection for top stories of the year reflects that.
The pandemic provided plenty of conflict, but so did local politics. And our communities participated in a global social movement. By summer’s end, we knew we would have two top 10 lists — one for COVID-19 stories and one for other news stories. And in a year in which sports almost was nonexistent, we still found a top 10.
We did not use the most rigorous methodology to create these lists. We started with the 100 most read items on our website, then weighed those based on their newsworthiness — an ambiguous term — and what ripple effects events and circumstances generated. If we strictly went with the most popular content for news, some transitory events such as the flooding in the spring that lasted a couple of days, or character profiles would make the top five. But those just were not newsworthy enough.
No list of the top whatever is perfect. The New York Times, for example, created a list of the 25 greatest actors of the 21st Century. Keanu Reeves came in at No. 4. That is about right, I argued on a friend’s Facebook page. Others disagreed. (They are wrong, but that’s OK). These lists are conversation starters and a way to look back over what was.
While combing through our stories from the past year, I fiddled with the idea of a top 10 list for inspirational stories. We had them in abundance, from the La Grande neighborhood watch group helping community members during the pandemic to Bruce Kevan, a retired La Grande educator, using modern technology to regain the ability to walk to teachers pushing to provide the best education they can for students in virtual classrooms. I’m not sure how you rank those stories as No. 10 or No. 1.
I heard some folks were concerned this year in review would have only “negative” news. Yes, COVID-19 and government restrictions to control it hurt so many, and the newsroom chronicled much of that. Still, I don’t see all of that as negative. For example, The Observer’s special report on the COVID-19 outbreak in June at the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church was not negative. It was vital reporting. No surprise — it’s the top local pandemic story of 2020.
COVID-19 certainly is the story of 2020, but it became that story through all the people dealing with it, hurting from it and in so many ways triumphing over it. The pandemic redefined much for us, including the definition of hero, but it also solidified we live in a community full of people striving to improve themselves and improve where we live, even if they are not all in a top 10 list.
The pandemic and its ramifications are far from over, and the crew at The Observer will continue to report that news and all the rest. The past year reaffirmed for us the value of our mission to cover local news.
Here is to a better 2021.