COLUMN: About potholes and local journalism

if-we-create-an-atmosphere-in-our-community-where-our-kids-feel-welcome-then-kids-start-doing-better-1A community can’t tackle problems, solve challenges or celebrate successes without first getting good information.

Good as in accurate and true.

As a lifelong journalist, I’m unsettled by what stands as “news” in this era. Lately, we’ve been treated to endless accounts of “fake” news. These social media posts parade as accurate accounts that in fact are wild distortions or false.

We have what I call “special interest news.” Any organization can host a “newsroom” to trot out its version of the truth, using selective information to support a point. More and more, people find “newsrooms” that appeal to them, whether they are ardent environmentalists or determined tea party advocates.

And then, perhaps most shamefully, we are confronted at every turn with “clickbait” news. You’ve seen these – wild headlines designed to snap you to attention. Rarely do the stories earn the headline. And way too, attention for a story is grabbed by parading half-dressed women across the screen.

Such “news” sources may seem satisfying like a rich dessert, but they don’t give you the broccoli of truth. As citizens, we all need to inform ourselves, not just seek information that confirms the way we want the world to run. The farther we stray from accurate information, the worse for us all.

Society solves problems by agreeing first on what problem exists. That means we all agree on a common set of facts. Then the argument can start about how to solve that problem. How does that work?

Consider something we’re all familiar with – a road pothole. Now we could all agree that indeed there is a pothole. You could see it. You could measure it. It exists. The debate goes to what to do about it – is it bad enough to fix? Should it be left alone? Is it such a tire-buster it needs an immediate repair?

In today’s argumentative times, we might not now even agree there IS a pothole. Someone might say, “Well, I heard from an expert there is no hole” without realizing that “expert” has never seen the hole. Someone might say, “Well, the pothole crisis is made up. It’s a conspiracy.” Or, worse, someone starts circulating a Facebook post: “Pothole swallows school bus!”

You get the idea. At the Malheur Enterprise, we’re not going to change the national press culture in a way that restores faith in the media. We can, however, work our tails off to earn and retain your trust that we’re doing our level best to get you vital community information. We will do so with faith to accuracy and fairness. We will do so without favor to any powerful interest, political or otherwise. We are guided by the absolute commitment to put in your hands the best information we can. Then you can decide whether or how you want that pothole fixed.

Now, we’ll make mistakes. Humans are complex creatures. We may misunderstand what’s told us or, in rare cases, we may be deliberately misled. Or we may make factual error. What we won’t do is distort facts to make a better, jazzier story. The truth needs no help to be interesting.

Our pledge at the Enterprise is to be a trusted source of news. We work every day, every hour to build your trust. If you ever have reason to question us, call us and let’s talk.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise. Email: [email protected].