Reporter Yadira Lopez of the Malheur Enterprise records a community run.
Like me, you probably have never heard of Warroad, Minnesota.
It’s a rural town of about 1,800 people and, as of May, it is a community without a newspaper.
The Warroad Pioneer had been the local news voice for more than 120 years, and its recent death made news in the New York Times. (See: Warroad Pioneer )
I read the Times account closely, because I’ve invested my life in producing quality news and finding ways to serve local needs. That’s what brought me to Vale and the Malheur Enterprise.
The story of Warroad is getting too familiar across the country. In too many places, there is not enough money, from advertising or subscribers, to pay the bills.
Just days after reading that story, I was talking with a colleague in California. She had just recently gotten off the phone with a respected publisher in Texas.
“She started crying,” the colleague said. “She said she was going to have to close.”
This is a newspaper with a reputation for tough reporting, for digging in where public officials don’t want anyone poking around.
Now, closing a newspaper is bad news for employees, who have sometimes held their jobs for years. It is bad for owners, who typically invest and invest, hoping to keep life in the paper.
But it’s bad news for the communities they serve.
Local newspapers are easy to take for granted. Some have been around a long time. The Enterprise has served Malheur County for 100 years. Readers get accustomed to the routine – the news of a successful student, the photo of an award, the account of a school board meeting.
And the internet has made meeting those expectations ever more challenging. After all, Facebook and Twitter don’t cost anything. Anyone who can type can go online, toss out information and photos and “news” is born. When it comes to snapshots from the Malheur County Fair of a winning steer, that’s not a bad development.
But when it comes to vital community situations, such as the current disruption in the Ontario School District, more than typing ability and opinion are needed. Reporters trained in pursuing the truth, in parsing fact from fiction, provide the community a trusted common source of information.
In the New York Times piece, the reporter noted: “There was also the reality that truth telling in a tiny town, while generating good copy, does not always generate love for the newspaper.”
And this: “What about the next government scandal, the next school funding crisis? Who would be there? Who would tell?”
The story quoted a Warroad resident: “Is there going to be somebody to hold their feet to the fire?” asked Tim Bjerk, 51.
Hold their feet to the fire.
That’s one of the most important duties for us at the Enterprise. Indeed, it has won us enmity from powerful people in the community. They would rather we didn’t tell you the entire story. What they are saying, in fact, is they rather we not trust you with the truth. Censor the negative, promote the positive.
At the Enterprise, we do publish the positive. Our series on winners of community awards in Vale is but one recent example.
But we’re not going to shy from telling the truth about how those in power use your authority and your money.
No other media – not one – does the kind of investigative reporting we do for Malheur County.
Our staff hears often from around the county that people appreciate that journalism, that honesty.
And we appreciate the compliments.
And we’re not asking for charity. We’ll earn every dollar we get from subscribers and advertising businesses.
We’re strong and determined. You can help keep us that way. Subscribe to our print or digital service. Use us to market your business.
We’ll fight hard to give Malheur County the truth – fairly and accurately. We never want to go the way of the Warroad Pioneer – a community voice stilled, a day of joy for those in power who can operate without fear of exposure.
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Les Zaitz, editor and publisher