Saturday, April 17, 2021
April 17, 2021

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From The Newsroom: Why do I write this column? I’ll tell you

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

It’s been just short of a year since I started writing this column, and for the most part, I have tried to stay focused on what’s going on in the news business in general and at The Columbian in particular.

I’ve been doing this on purpose. Transparency, or why reporters and editors do what they do, is a big issue in our industry right now. It seems like almost every day I see something on social media that makes what I strongly suspect are faulty assumptions about how or why a national story got reported. It is not unusual for me to receive an email or a phone message that makes me realize local folks don’t realize what we do or how we do it.

Plus, there are huge amounts of distrust in what’s disdainfully referred to as “corporate media,” a category in which I would not put The Columbian. We’ve been owned and operated by the Campbell family of Vancouver for nearly a century now, and I have to tell you it’s amazing to have the owners working right alongside of you every day, with the same goal of running a sustainable business that provides good, local jobs and makes our community better.

I realize not everyone agrees with my column’s focus. After last week’s column, I got a long and thoughtful note from a longtime reader. She writes:

“I have seen three or four of your recent articles in a very short period of time explaining what you do, why, how things operate on the paper, etc. And to ME it is boring and unnecessary. I personally do not care how things work, just that they DO work. … I thought the purpose of your column was for you as editor to give us YOUR insight on what is happening in our community, our town and county, in regard to local government, local politicians, local people. … Perhaps I am incorrect in this analysis or purpose of the column, or perhaps the intent or purpose of the column has changed. …'”

I can appreciate that. In fact, my predecessor, Lou Brancaccio, still writes his award-winning Press Talk column, at least on the first Saturday of every month.

But the reader’s letter reminds me that I should probably explain my job in a little more depth.

I spend a lot of my day in the newsroom, handling administrative tasks and talking with reporters, photographers and editors about stories and placement. It’s not unusual for me to do the first editing on stories, particularly those that appear on the Sunday front page. I help Greg Jayne, our editorial page editor, by providing editing and feedback on editorials, and I fill in for him if he’s gone. I also try to keep an eye on the wire, the competition and social media. In general, I try to use my “Spidey-sense” to spot and solve problems before they occur, and to suggest things that will make The Columbian better.

What I don’t do too often is go out and interview newsmakers or write stories. (You’ll occasionally see my byline on a short story that I wrote because the beat reporter was busy or not available.) I like to do these things, but it’s the reporters’ job, and I try to be their coach, not an extra player.

But since our reader asked, I will share a few of my current opinions:

• Vancouver is well on its way to becoming Portland’s most liveable suburb. The taxes, the traffic and the schools are better. Our new waterfront is cool, and we have a lot of other great parks and amenities.

• U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler is trying to be more visible since the election. She’s become even more centrist, working on bills that seem likely to draw bipartisan support.

• There won’t be much progress on an Interstate 5 replacement bridge this year. Not enough of the political decision-makers are on the same page in either state, let alone both states.

Now that you’ve read my opinions, I think you’ll see why I try to stick to writing about The Columbian!

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