Does what we do matter?
After layoffs this month at The Columbian eliminated a quarter of the sports department, I’ve been getting this question quite a bit.
I’ve been asked that question from the five workers I now supervise, down from the 10 full-time employees the department had in 2008.
I’ve also pondered this question myself.
Each time, the answer I give is a resounding “yes.”
In today’s edition of The Columbian, we highlight our All-Region multi-sport athletes of the year. This package represents the unofficial end to our 2015-16 high school sports coverage season.
And in looking back on the hundreds of athletes we’ve covered during that season, I’m reminded of our purpose.
Layoffs always stink because they affect people who have done their job well.
That’s definitely the case with page designer Kurt Zimmer and Portland Trail Blazers beat writer Erik Gundersen. But bad times across the newspaper industry too often impact good people.
With our smaller staff, I’m facing a dilemma. Do we try to cover everything we typically have, but do it less thoroughly?
Or do we focus on fewer things and try to cover them really well?
To me, it’s a no-brainer.
We’re going to put nearly all of our reporting resources into covering Clark County events, athletes and the outdoors.
Unfortunately, we’ll no longer send a reporter to cover Blazers home games. We’ll rely instead on stories from the Associated Press.
Through these “wire” stories, we will continue to offer our print subscribers coverage of sports from around the Northwest, the nation and the world.
But we’re going to focus our time and energy covering the stories in our community.
Because in that community, we in The Columbian sports department are reminded of our purpose.
Covering high school sports has never been just about making scrapbook material for athletes and their parents.
It goes far beyond that. In young athletes, we often see the best attributes of our society.
We see dedication. We see selflessness. We see communion not just among teammates, but in the bond between a school and its community.
Telling those stories is important. In an age when the media is filled with tales of violence, corruption and petty bickering among adults, these young people remind us that our community’s future is in good hands.
This past season we told the story of Jake Ryan, who inspired his Mountain View basketball and baseball teammates by recovering from open-heart surgery fast enough to play in the spring.
We told the story of Ashley Helmold, whose health woes ravaged a body that requires a feeding tube. Yet with a spirit that was never broken, the La Center gymnast qualified for the state meet.
We told the story of Ben Gruher, a district golf champion for Union who has become an ambassador for teens who, like him, have a severe form of hemophilia.
And we told the story of Avery Schmidt, the Skyview infielder who plays in memory of his mother, who fought cancer.
These are just a few of the hundreds of local athletes we mention each year in game reports or feature stories.
Behind each name is a story of strength and dedication.
Each is important. Each serves as a reminder of what is best about our community.
And in telling those stories, we in the Columbian sports department find our purpose.
Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @col_mrice.