COLUMN: Small Enterprise news team tackles challenging stories

Downtown Vale on Wednesday, Jan. 18. (Malheur Enterprise/Les Zaitz)

News in a disaster can’t wait a week.

That’s why our news crew – the entire crew, in fact – worked so hard in recent days to keep you up to date.

The Malheur Enterprise, of course, publishes once a week. But delivering news on Thursday that schools were closed on Monday doesn’t help parents or school workers.

That’s why we turned our Facebook page in Malheur County’s go-to source for developments. We wanted to get out to the community vital information as fast as possible. We know you all had decisions to make.

That’s why you got up-to-minute news when Interstate 84 was closed – again – or when other roads were impassible. We posted reports on school closures, forecasted weather, government office closures, and pleas for help and understanding from public works crews.

Reporters John Braese and Pat Caldwell worked all week and through the weekend to keep that news flowing. And they did that on top of gathering the information for our weekly newspaper. That meant, for instance, that John still pursued results of what high school games there were even while sorting out road conditions. Pat rounded up the police logs while getting out the latest news online from emergency management officials.

And then came the tragedy involving David and Jessica Bates. We were already stretched to near breaking when this happened last week. John and Pat just took a deep breath and took on even more work. We knew this was a profoundly important story – and we knew the community by now would be looking to our Facebook posts for information.

The rest of the Enterprise staff pitched in, relaying news they were getting from their own contacts. Bobbi Buttice, our business manager who is all-knowing about Vale; Kelsey Haueter, our circulation manager with deep contacts in the country, and Bev Vickery, our advertising rep who knows the environs of Willowcreek intimately, all helped us round up the news. From Nyssa, correspondent Susan Barton was tireless in feeding us updates – and terrific photos. And Sheila Schroder and her husband Marion made sure the printed edition got where it was supposed.

Speaking of photos, many people responded to our requests for photos. Scotta Callister, co-publisher, took on the job of processing those into a gallery on Facebook. The photos – now more than 60 of them – chronicle the beauty and the beast of this winter.

Resorting to Facebook to get out news is a fresh wrinkle for the Enterprise. Frankly, our crew was puzzled over my insistence awhile back that we rely on Facebook to get out news. After the recent performance, they are all believers in how they can serve the community long before the presses crank up to roll out the latest Enterprise.

If they needed any convincing, they had evidence of the impact of their work. Pat shared his discussion with someone in the onion industry, who said he was constantly checking our Facebook page to get the news. We’ve had similar comments in our posts from some of you who were surprised and then appreciative of the work evident online.

But even I was astonished by the reaction. Facebook tracks statistics for who’s looking at your page and who’s using it. Boy, were you and others using it. By last week, we had “reached” nearly a quarter million people with our posts. That means, as I understand, that our posts were put in front of that many people as one person after another shared. And we had something north of 140,000 “engagements” – people who shared, commented or otherwise used our posts. That’s an astonishing reach for a small weekly newspaper.

That’s satisfying for us at the paper. But all you need to know is that when big news breaks, count on the mighty Malheur Enterprise team to respond.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise. Contact him at [email protected].