Statewide news outlet run by Malheur Enterprise editor will cover state government, politics

Julia Shumway, Lynne Terry, Les Zaitz and Alex Baumhardt (left to right) are the four-person team behind Oregon Capital Chronicle. (Courtesy/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Oregon Capital Chronicle, a Salem-based news outlet dedicated to reporting on state government and politics, will debut Tuesday, Oct. 5.

Veteran investigative reporter and two-time Pulitzer finalist Les Zaitz will serve as the outlet’s editor-in-chief. Zaitz is the editor of Salem Reporter as well as editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise. Zaitz said the Chronicle’s reporters have been working for three weeks to develop stories on state officials, education across Oregon and emergency services during the Covid pandemic.

He said the team will try to “demystify” state government and politics for the average person.

“I think one of our major challenges is trying to translate government stories into plain English that are meaningful to the reader,” he said. “It’s one thing to cover state government, it’s another thing to share your findings in a way that readers find compelling and understandable.”

Lynne Terry, formerly the editor of The Lund Report, will serve as deputy editor. Joining her are Julia Shumway, recently a statehouse reporter for Arizona Capitol Times, and Alex Baumhardt, most recently a reporter and producer for American Public Media.

“First and foremost,” Zaitz said, “my essential hiring focus was who are the best journalists to do this work, to get Oregon the very best state government coverage.” He said he was disappointed by the lack of applicants from Latino journalists who would help reflect the diversity of the community.

The Chronicle will be the 25th outlet reporting on state government as part of States Newsroom, a national nonprofit network funded by tax-deductible donations from readers and philanthropists, according to a news release from the Chronicle.

Readers can find the Chronicle’s daily reporting on its website and through morning newsletters emailed to subscribers.

The newsletter, Your Daily Chronicle, will once a day highlight the top Oregon news and commentary. People can sign up for the newsletter at the Chronicle’s website.

The commentary will include guest columns written by “a wide spectrum of people,” Zaitz said, from different organizations, universities and the world of politics.

“It’s going to provide a platform for a really diverse discussion of state policies and politics,” he said.

Zaitz said the Chronicle will provide its stories for free and for other Oregon news organizations to use so as many people as possible can access them.

“People are stretched in their budgets and their resources, and they’re being asked to help support lots of different paying enterprises,” he said. “Under this model, just like ProPublica and some of the others that you see around the country, there are enough people in organizations who see the importance of this work to provide the funding so that it can be provided for free.”

Terry said she thinks state government and politics are “woefully under-covered,” with many newsrooms that previously had multiple reporters covering the legislature and state government now down to just one, if any.

“It’s really important to have accountability,” she said. “Where’s our money going? Is it being used wisely? What’s it been used for? All these questions really need to be covered and covered more in-depth than they are now simply because other media outlets don’t have the resources anymore to do so.”

Terry said the team will be open to a dialogue with readers. She welcomed readers to contact them about programs, policies or anything else related to state government they believe needs to be covered.

“I just see this as such a critical need for the state of Oregon and its people, particularly in a time when we seem to be so divided and facts seem to be so much in question,” Zaitz said. “We want to provide what we hope to be a trusted foundation of information on state issues that stretch from border to border.”

He said readers can expect the same “rigorous” fact-checking protocol he has used in his other Oregon reporting outlets and throughout his career to make sure stories are accurate, complete and fair.

“There is no blindsiding of anybody, there is no contortion of facts,” he said. “We deal with our sources in a way that ensures that the stories that people will get from Oregon Capitol Chronicle are as accurate as humanly possible.”

Zaitz was a reporter at The Oregonian from 1976-1987 and served as owner and publisher of Keizertimes from 1987-2000. He rejoined the Oregonian in 2000 as senior investigative reporter and later served as the investigations editor before he retired from the organization in 2016.

After his family bought the Malheur Enterprise in 2015 and saved it from closure, he became the newspaper’s editor and publisher. He co-founded Salem Reporter in 2018 and is the CEO and editor.

In addition to his now three news operations, Zaitz runs a small ranch in eastern Oregon with his wife, veteran journalist Scotta Callister.

 Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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