Friday, August 12, 2022
Aug. 12, 2022

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From the Newsroom: Readers want Vital information

By , Columbian Editor
Published:

Where, oh where, are the marriage licenses, dissolutions and routine Clark County Superior Court sentencings?

Sharp-eyed, devoted Columbian readers want to know.

Before I launch into the explanation, I want to let everyone know that these vital statistics should return later this month, and probably sooner rather than later.

Now, let me explain why these public records haven’t been in the paper for the past couple of weeks. The simple answer is that Lyndsey Hewitt, the news assistant who compiled them for us for the last couple of years, resigned her position. We were left without anyone to do the job until we can hire a successor.

I am very pleased to report that we are on the cusp of hiring someone to take Lyndsey’s job. As soon as she arrives, we will start by training her to do the vitals.

We’ll also train her to do the other tasks that are part of this busy job, some of which are not customer-facing. For example, she will be responsible for keeping our business statistics, a trove of information that dates back for several decades. We used to use the information to prepare a daily trends chart for our business cover, but with that page gone, we now use the data less frequently. But, we are still collecting it, and we can use it when appropriate.

Lyndsey is a talented writer and once was a weekly newspaper reporter, so she also contributed a regular feature called Clark County at Work. Her successor doesn’t have that background, so it’s likely that Clark County at Work’s return will be delayed until she masters the other parts of her job.

An emerging trend

Frankly, I was somewhat surprised when we got several dozen calls, emails and letters after we put the vital statistics on hiatus. I didn’t realize how many people read that agate. A few years ago, when we dropped the District Court convictions, I don’t recall receiving a single inquiry about it. But apparently quite a few readers are interested in marriages and divorces.

Until we heard from readers, I was tempted to permanently drop the vitals, keeping only the death notices and birth announcements. Dropping routine court and police items is an emerging trend in our industry.

There’s been a big debate, which like everything else in our industry, has been complicated by the internet.

If someone is charged with DUI, for example, it’s a public record. Anyone has the right to inspect the record and print the information. There’s a public good in letting people know how our criminal justice system is functioning.

But in the old days, a newspaper report of a DUI conviction went into the recycle bin and was soon forgotten by the general public. Finding the story a decade later would be very difficult.

Now, publication of a conviction lives on the internet forever and can be retrieved in less than a second with a simple search most people can do on their phone. If a person got a DUI five or 10 years ago, and it was printed in the newspaper, it shows up every time that a prospective employer makes a web search.

It’s a fact, but is it fair to judge someone who made a mistake five or 10 years ago? I’m not talking about felonies, such as murder or robbery, but about misdemeanors, such as driving with a suspended license or shoplifting.

I am glad we are no longer publishing misdemeanor convictions, because I don’t feel like I am smart enough to answer that question.

Comings and goings

Lyndsey’s departure and her successor’s arrival are just two of the staffing changes occurring in our newsroom. Two of our reporters, Jack Heffernan and Wyatt Stayner, left us this summer to enroll in graduate school. We’re currently in the process of hiring successors for their beats, which include county government, small cities and health.

Also leaving us this week is Calley Hair, who has done a great job covering Vancouver city government, the state Legislature and the 3rd Congressional District. We’re actively working toward hiring her successor, too. I’ll write more about all of them after they start their new jobs.

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