Journalism honors nice, but Malheur County readers are more important

Les Zaitz, editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise, at work in the Vale newsroom. (E.J. Harris/East Oregonian)

Across the state and around the country, Malheur County is known for certain things.

We’re known for cattle. We’re the largest cattle producing area in Oregon.

We’re known for onions. We grow a billion pounds or more a year.

We’re known for the Owyhee Canyonlands, a spectacular landscape.

Now, we’re becoming known for journalism.

You may have noticed a string of announcements in recent months of honors coming to the Malheur Enterprise. Your local newspaper has been honored with national recognition, and state and regional awards will soon be announced as well.

Last week, the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Service surprised us with a prestigious national award – the Thomas and Pat Gish Award for courage in rural journalism.

This week, I travel to Florida to accept the Freedom of Information Award from a national journalism group, an honor that has never gone to a weekly newspaper before.

The transformation of the Enterprise has drawn national attention from the journalism profession. The mighty little paper based in Vale has been covered or mentioned in several journals of our profession.

So what, you might ask.

Well, here’s what this means to you, our readers.

This record shows that we are delivering on our promise to you – to deliver top-quality news that you can trust. Our peers, most who have no clue where Vale is, have evaluated our work and judged it meets the highest standards of the profession. We work hard every day, every week, to hold ourselves to exacting standards of truth and fairness while bringing you news you wouldn’t otherwise get.

This record shows that we are delivering on another promise to you – to stand up for your interests. Several of our recent professional honors turn on courage and determination while pursuing stories. Put another way, we’ve demonstrated that we will press for the truth, particularly from government.

Our most important job is to keep an eye on how public officials use their power and your money. Around Malheur County, there has been precious little questioning of either for years. We’re changing that. We don’t do so to cause trouble just for the sake of trouble. Rather, we know you want your government to behave, to spend money wisely, to serve the public good, and to avoid unethical behavior.

We ask hard questions and press for details, sometimes irritating or even angering public officials. Bluster and insults, though, won’t deter us.

I really hope you take pride in what’s become of your local newspaper, just as you take pride in the national reputation of Vale High School’s automotive program or Treasure Valley Community College’s rodeo program. We hope you like having one of the best newspapers around be YOUR newspaper.

As the honors come our way, I honestly try to strike the balance between pride and humility. It’s hubris to treat such honors with a shoulder shrug. Professional colleagues put care and thought into selecting organizations for these journalism honors. We respect that, and I’m deeply proud of what your newspaper has accomplished the past two years.

Yet I don’t feel the need to go order a slightly bigger cowboy hat. The honors, indeed, are welcome but they don’t get me to different treatment at the Starlite or the Lucky Cup.

You need to know that as welcome as these honors are, they are a byproduct and not the goal for our team. Always, our first ambition is to deliver news that you find to be fair, accurate and trustworthy.

Les Zaitz: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.