COLUMN: First half of year challenging, gratifying for crew of the Enterprise

We’ve been gunning hard at the Malheur Enterprise and it’s time to take a breath and assess. What a six months it’s been for us and for you.

The year started, of course, with twin challenges for news gathering.

The winter snowstorms tested our news staff. We turned our Facebook page into a sort of dispatch center for the public, and thousands upon thousands of people came to us for the latest on forecasts, road closures and then building collapses. Even with a small staff, we became Malheur County’s go-to source for breaking news.

Our reporters then tackled the horrific murders now blamed on Anthony Montwheeler. We didn’t just report the awful events of Jan. 9. We dug in hard to find out who was Montwheeler. Our news crew brought you the startling news that Montwheeler had just been released from the state hospital after faking mental illness for 20 years.

The news team has expanded for the summer as we welcomed Mitchell Willetts, a Texas native about to finish his journalism studies at the University of Oklahoma. He is our first intern. He’s getting paid – not much – and he’s earning college credit towards graduation.

“I had my sights set on a more traditional summer internship, a big city paper, well-respected, a sure thing,” Willetts said. But after researching what was happening at the Enterprise, “I knew I had to change my plans,” he said.

“I drove 1,200 miles from Norman, Oklahoma, to Vale to work with, and learn from, some of the best in the business. I was confident then and positive now, I made the right call,” he said.

He jumped right in to get you up to speed on how the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is readying for wildfire season, and he’s become our local rodeo expert. While he brings us added reporting muscle, the deal is we will send him back to school with experience and training. I’m personally determined to see he takes away a deep appreciation for the need in our profession for integrity, accuracy and fairness.

As we’ve covered the news, we’ve tried to help the community navigate important issues. The Enterprise hosted a standing-room-only town hall about the future of Treasure Valley Community College. We conducted an election forum in Vale to vet candidates for public office. Our editorials have prodded public officials to act for the betterment of Malheur County, whether it’s legislation to create local jobs or cleaning up the wreckage of the Golden Slipper Restaurant.

Reaction from our community has been gratifying. Circulation is growing. Our Facebook page is the area’s must-read site. On an average week, more than 20,000 find our news there.

More and more businesses rely on the Enterprise as a credible and trusted platform to reach customers. We provide an important way to reach customers for a grocer or insurance agent or a medical clinic.

Nothing delights us more, though, than opening a subscription renewal to find a hand-written “attaboy!” We’ve attracted other attention for the quality local journalism we pursue. The Idaho Statesman gave us front page treatment. The Seattle Times used a Sunday column to talk about your newspaper, and an open government group honored us with an award.

Recently, people from around the country have sent money not for subscriptions but simply to support our style of journalism. We are somewhat stunned that people will contribute to a private business. Every dime of that goes back into the news work – and to sustain our internship.

You can help us get even stronger. Get us your news tips. Subscribe or support us. And advertise.

In return, we’ll continue improving. Our ambition? To give you one of the best local news sources in the country.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Enterprise.