COMMENTARY: Take this survey, help Malheur County, and let’s try something new

We need your help to try something different for Malheur County.

As journalists, those of us at the Malheur Enterprise know well the challenges in our community.

The list of matters that could use fixing is long.

And there are so many, it sometimes seems like making headway is frustrating.

And many of these are not new clouds over the county.

Child poverty.

Domestic abuse.

Shortage of places to live.

Racial inequality.

As journalists, our job is to reflect the community. That means we report a great deal on these problems.

There is a different approach, and we want to head that way in a big way – solutions journalism.

This is reporting that tells of those who have successfully dealt with an issue. The reporting tells why they succeeded – and what is the evidence they did. This isn’t taking rose-tinted glasses to serious matters. Rather it’s finding hope of change in what can sometimes feel like endless despair.

This idea formed in recent weeks as the pandemic disrupted life even more severely in Malheur County.

For nearly a year, the Enterprise has had the extraordinary privilege of being part of a group of newsrooms around the country in a special program. Through the Solutions Journalism Network, we’ve shared training, ideas and stories with colleagues from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune to the feisty Flint Beat in Michigan.

We have tried our hand at solutions reporting. Last summer, we provided the community a story on how other communities successfully provided oversight of their police agencies. And we documented how one rural county in California was able to keep its Covid rate down – providing potential lessons for Malheur County.

But in those instances, we did our job and moved on.

We want to test a new approach.

What if the Enterprise could focus on just one community issue for a time?

And what if instead of telling everyone what’s wrong, we seek out what’s right? And we did so over time – not just a quick in-and-out story?

With such reporting focused on a single issue – such as child poverty – we would bring a sense of optimism. We would encourage community leaders, local government and ordinary citizens feel they can, indeed, make a difference. We would keep the spotlight on the matter and not let it get overrun by new challenges or old fatigue.

To be clear, this isn’t the Enterprise providing the solutions. Rather, we’d be giving you and others in the community information to act.

In recent weeks, I’ve consulted a kitchen cabinet of advisers on this idea. Given the pandemic, there is reasonable skepticism whether this would work at the moment. But there also is enthusiasm for the idea of a community collectively focusing its resources on a single issue.

Among those who have helped me think this through are Frank and Patty Yraguen of Vale, Police Chief Ray Rau of Nyssa, former Ontario Mayor Ron Verini, Wendy Hill, director of the local office of the state Department of Human Services, Gustavo Morales, executive director of Euvalcree, Circuit Judge Lung Hung and Ontario business owners Mike and Debbie Blackaby.

They have contributed thoughtful and candid remarks about this idea.

Now, it’s your turn.

Take five minutes and take our survey.

LINK: Community survey

The idea is to get a sense of what people in the community think are the top concerns. We can guess and we can consult all the experts on these matters. But we want to know what you, as a citizen, think.

And we want to gauge whether focusing on just one issue might encourage you to join in – if you thought you could make a difference for a child, a family, an institution.

At the Enterprise, we are serious about our role as a citizen of the community.

That means rolling up our sleeves and helping improving life here with careful reporting, by engaging the community, by pointing to possible solutions.

Feel free to share the link with others and those in any organizations you are part of.

And if you have more expansive thoughts, don’t hesitate a moment to drop me a line by email at [email protected].

I have little doubt that a sense of hope will get us farther ahead. Together, we can make the community better. Your opinion is a key to how we do that.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Enterprise.


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