Twenty-five years ago, this newspaper began as The Hillsdale Connection. The name "Hillsdale" at the time was floating around untethered. It appeared on signs but signified no place defined by boundaries.
Hillsdale was a mirage.
Part of my plan in founding the paper was to give tangible form to this phantasm through communication. To do that, I needed to establish a "circulation area." Those who received and read the paper would become an informed, engaged community — Hillsdale.
I also surmised that the quality of that community would be influenced by the quality of the publication. In my first editorial I wrote "...a newspaper's primary goal is, quite simply, to inform readers. To the extent humanly possible, the job should be done fairly and impartially....When the Connection explores issues, it will do so with the aim of finding solutions."
Among the solutions the paper helped find was the voter-approved establishment of a definable Hillsdale, a city-recognized neighborhood with its own neighborhood association and boundaries. The new map put a civic/commercial area, consisting of shops, schools, library, fire department, at the heart of an identifiable Hillsdale Neighborhood of some 7,000 residents.
In March 1996, in response to requests from neighboring communities, I expanded the paper's news coverage and circulation to much of Southwest Portland. The Hillsdale Connection became the Southwest Community Connection.
Despite its increased circulation area, the paper still helped much happen in Hillsdale. Those accomplishments included the Hillsdale Farmers Market, Hillsdale's Book Sale (on Sunday, July 21, this year) and the Hillsdale Community Foundation.
The City of Portland acknowledged the paper's catalytic role by awarding it the Mayor's Spirit of Portland Award in 1999.
I never expected the paper to do for our Southwest quadrant of Portland what it had done for Hillsdale. For one thing, the much larger area has no name to inspire devotion. (My suggestion of "Sylvania" has been a non-starter), but Southwest Portland did have neighborhoods which shared, and continue to share, many of the challenges faced by Hillsdale. The paper set out to address them. They were found in schools, infrastructure, mass transit, housing affordability, property tax policy, density, crime, zoning and the environment...among others.
The paper also recognized and celebrated the accomplishments of communities, institutions, businesses and individuals. It relished exploring the rich history, and even pre-history, of this place we call home.
I was editor and publisher for a mere five years although, to my astonishment, 20 years later, I get emails urging me to print this or that.
When I sold the paper in 2000 and stepped down as editor, I knew I would always be the "founder" and, as such, I hoped I had "set the course" for the future. Under a variety of editors, the paper, not surprisingly, changed direction: for better or worse.
Last year's chain-wide "rebranding" and redesign of all Pamplin papers to favor corporate conformity over community diversity was particularly galling. I'm still baffled by management's decision to put owner/"neighbor" Pamplin's portrait on each and every front page.
The good news is that starting last fall, under new editor Bill Gallagher, the paper's content is on course. Indeed, Gallagher may have embarked on a far better tack than my own.
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Gallagher and I, like all editors, should be the first to admit we are not perfect. My own list of foibles is long. The Connection once published a story about the closing of one of two prominent Southwest Portland candy stores. It turned out to be the wrong store of the two. The story appeared in the run-up to Valentine's Day. The owner of the surviving store was not amused. It all smacked of Mark Twain's remark, "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." In the case of the candy store, our report was costly. To make amends, I bought the store's leftover stock from Valentine's Day for $400 and donated it to Neighborhood House.
It has been repeatedly claimed by a certain federal potentate that journalists are "the enemies of the People." As a journalist and journalism teacher for 50 years, I've recently toyed with turning myself in to see where that might go. A federal penitentiary perhaps? I do not say this lightly. As I write, hundreds of journalists are in prisons around the world for the offense of reporting the truth.
In some ways, though, journalists, lest we forget, are "people" themselves, and, like people everywhere, they can be their own worst enemies.
For us, even small errors (and this paper has had its share) can have cumulative consequences. Consider just a few among hundreds of gremlins — getting a name, location, date or time wrong, misspelling a word, using an inexact or wrong word, or committing some grammatical blooper. Each chips away at the publication's credibility. Seeing such mangled messes, astute readers rightly wonder whether other information is accurate. All this leaves openings to those, with questionable intent, to proclaim journalists "enemies of the People."
So to the previously cited "fairness and impartiality" dicta add "accuracy." Long ago a stern but wise editor lectured me, "There is no excuse for inaccuracy."
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Included in that very first Connection issue dated July 1994, now brown-tinged with age, are words by a different writer that beg sharing. When I first pondered the fuzzy dimensions of Hillsdale in the run-up to that premier issue, I asked writer Brian Doyle to "find Hillsdale."
I knew Brian as a colleague from my teaching days at the University of Portland. Brian, who died two years ago, wrote warm and wise books and numerous inspired and inspiring essays. I commend them to you.
That same inspiration, warmth and wisdom was on page 3 of the first Connection in an essay titled "Hillsdale as a State of Mind."
Brian's observations about Hillsdale 25 years ago apply to all communities then, now and forever. It reads true.
"...there is the itch for community, for a neighborhood like Hillsdale, a place where you know and are known, where you belong to a certain place. In the last analysis, what defines a community is its sense of self, and that sense is sharper in smaller doses — a marriage, a family, a team, a club, a company, a neighborhood.
"....the more (HIllsdale's) residents do to define it, to identify and trumpet its eccentricities and history and particular dreams, the more they build a community. And I believe, in my old age, that a life is sweetest when it is widest. We are bound to care for and about each other. That is what we do best, and that is what betters us."
Brian's words provide the coda for this "Together" column and for all the columns I have written for this paper. The one you have just read will be my last.
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