Opinion » Editorial

Has the National Media Been Obsessed with Russiagate? Maybe. Meanwhile, local news outlets press on

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It's true: The national media has been obsessed with Donald Trump and Russia.

Here in the world of local news, however, we've been keeping our noses to the ground.

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In the wake of the Mueller report, it's been a difficult time for national news outlets. Ahead of Attorney General William Barr's eventual release of at least part of the report, Barr has said the findings show there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.

The president is using this period to further vilify a press he has repeatedly called an "enemy of the people." In the wake of Barr's initial findings on the report, many have jumped on Trump's bandwagon, condemning the press for covering Russiagate too copiously, and for having pundits—not the same as reporters—weigh in too heavily on what the outcomes might be. They protest that national news outlets have focused too much on investigations of the president, at the expense of covering stories of import in places outside Washington, D.C., and New York.

Meanwhile, local news outlets continue to do the work we've been tasked with doing all along—reporting on local events and watch-dogging elected officials, right here in Central Oregon.

And when we hold local governments accountable, it's bound to make some people uncomfortable.

This from Michael Schudson, a sociologist, historian and professor at Columbia University, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review:

"Perhaps it's not surprising to learn that journalism's self-defined mission of 'holding government accountable' is hurting trust. In the past 40 years, 'accountability journalism' has come to assert itself as a defining feature of mainstream newsrooms. The news is much less deferential than it once was to institutions and people in power. That may be good, but it also means that a lot of people are going to distrust the media, particularly when their favorite politicians or the parties they identify with are critically appraised or openly confronted by journalistic investigation, information, or opinion."

In these discussions of media trust, it is easy for readers to associate the entire media industry with the national outlets that have vilified Trump. But locally, we have plenty of other things to do.

Some news outlets, locally and nationally, are struggling to stay afloat financially. But we don't correlate that with the debate regarding press coverage of Trump, any more than we blame it on readers' lack of interest in subscriptions, or the rise of social media.

In a cultural climate in which the media is vilified nationally, consider the words of Neil Brown, president of the journalism training school, the Poynter Institute:

"It's OK to disagree or criticize. But to use words like treason and to seek retribution for stories that one doesn't agree with is offensive and utterly unacceptable in this society."

To continue to bring readers a window on their local world, we get creative, leveraging every bit of journalistic might we can muster. Case in point: Our newspaper has recently joined Oregon Public Broadcasting's regional news network, aimed at sharing stories among media outlets statewide. Where our resources fall short, partnerships such as these can fill in gaps.

As a local newspaper, we do things the public can't do, in service of the public. Following the last election, we invited members of both the local Republican and Democratic parties into our office, in an effort of reporting accurately on their activities moving forward. During election seasons, we invite political candidates from all sides in for endorsement interviews, getting to know each one personally before we endorse them—or not. Readers have the right to disagree with our take—but in a media landscape in which just two newspapers in the community endorse candidates, each serves as an important mechanism for comparing and contrasting.

In addition to being watchdogs on local government, our mission is to be engaging, and to engage our readers in discussions of local issues. We welcome a variety of comments on our website and social media channels, as a method of having a pulse on our community. Crucial to our survival is our belief as a newspaper that we don't stand above the community we report on. We ARE the community we report on, and it is our duty to ensure a fair, equitable, accountable and transparent public process for all community members—even if that makes some people uncomfortable.

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