COMMENTARY: Rural reporting project in Vale offers new opportunities, lessons

The call from California came with an offer.

Would the Malheur Enterprise be willing to work with a half-dozen journalism students and two professors from the University of Southern California’s journalism school?

The caller was Judy Muller, a veteran national television news correspondent. She now helps teach the next generation of journalists. And she’s written a book about small-town newspapers, so she knew how to talk my talk.

She explained that the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism (one of the most respected journalism schools in the country) runs a special project to get students into rural America to try their hand at reporting beyond urban areas. The idea was to drop into a rural area, partner with local journalists, report like mad, and go home with lessons learned.


Muller said the Enterprise seemed a potential base for the 2020 program. Was I interested?

She didn’t need to do any convincing.

I’ve worked hard in my career to mentor young reporters and help train new journalists. The Enterprise has become a bit of a boot camp for young journalists. Muller’s plan fit in perfectly.

So, next spring, a half a dozen or so students from Los Angeles will come to Malheur County for a couple of weeks. Muller will come, joined by another USC professor, Rebecca Haggerty. Both Muller and Haggerty have impressive resumes in national journalism.

We’re still working out the details on what the students will focus on. We’ll pick one topic, the students will go to work, and Malheur County and the Enterprise will benefit from deep journalism that otherwise would never happen.

Muller and Haggerty took a squad to Utah in a similar partnership with the San Juan Record, a newspaper published in Monticello, Utah.

Bill Boyle lists himself as “publisher, editor, janitor” of the Record. He was high on what the USC students had done in his town.

“It was a very positive experience for the San Juan Record (and for the students and faculty),” Boyle wrote me. “I was very impressed with the quality of their work and how readily they jumped into the tasks at hand.”

That this program is coming to Vale is remarkable. Muller and Haggerty could have chosen any place in the country to go and they picked the Enterprise. They were attracted, apparently, by the transformation of the Enterprise in recent years.

I hope the community takes pride in this development. In rural areas, attracting national caliber outfits doesn’t happen every day.

And we’ve been fortunate with other partnerships that have helped the Enterprise. Those partnerships allow us to provide a kind of journalism that wouldn’t exist here otherwise.

We’re proud of our partnership with the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, which provides us a summer intern each year. We were proud of our partnership with the Cronkite School at Arizona State University, where teams of students poked and prodded the Enterprise and offered suggestions.

In the past, we’ve partnered with ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative reporting outfit that continues to expand its links with local news outlets. And we’re currently partners with Report for America, a national program that brought us reporter Yadira Lopez. She’s making great strides in sharpening our coverage of and for the local Latino community.

But none of this would matter without subscribers. Yet another report came out this week lamenting the demise of local newspapers across the country. At the Enterprise, we’re growing, not shrinking. We do so by offering news coverage that more and more people see worth paying for. And, I hope, more people are realizing that “free” news isn’t worth much, and getting credible local news requires modest payments through subscriptions.

We continue to develop our news coverage, learning from each of our partnerships. Let me close with two requests.

First, what local topic would you recommend students from Los Angeles dig into? They need to learn about rural Oregon – but also shed light on important news.

Second, who has a big house in the area that could serve as the journalism base camp next spring? Muller and Haggerty need to rent a large home for about two weeks to use as a camp for them and their students.

Let’s prepare to welcome these students and professors – and to learn from them as they learn from us.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Enterprise.

Email: [email protected]

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