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New editor of the Woodburn Independent approaches position with levity, respect

This February marks the six-year anniversary of the first time I walked into the office of the Woodburn Independent and applied for an open position as a beat reporter covering local high school athletics.

LINDSAY KEEFER - Woodburn Independent editor Phil HawkinsI knew little to nothing about Woodburn, other than what I had gleaned driving through on my way to the Interstate. The same goes for the North Marion School District and the surrounding towns that feed its student body. I had some familiarity of Mount Angel due to Oktoberfest, but could not navigate my way there without a map. Gervais and St. Paul were merely names I was vaguely aware of, having never traveled to either city in my nearly 30 years of living in the Willamette Valley.

I took the position because I love sports — and because I wanted a job. After several years of staying home to care for my son Arthur, I was ready to reenter the work force, and the Woodburn Independent was both close to my home in Salem and perfectly in line with my previous journalistic experience working for a small community newspaper in Junction City.

The job felt like stepping into a well-worn sneaker. It was instantly familiar, warm, and comforting. I never attended the University of Oregon's School of Journalism with the intention of becoming a community journalist, yet that is where my path has led me, and I can't envision having it any other way.

My first journalism job came via Mike Thoele, a veteran community journalist from the Eugene area who, along with his wife Sandy, ran the Tri-County News out of a converted home in Junction City. The Thoeles were the physical embodiment of ethical community journalism, singularly plugged into the fabric of cities they covered, while keeping a professional distance from those they covered.

I remember one of my first school board meetings as an intern, where Mike pulled me aside before we entered the building. The Junction City School Board always ordered pizza for their meetings, and he knew they would inevitably offer us to grab a slice while the meeting was going. I was not to accept the pizza.

Mike believed that part of being a responsible journalist meant drawing respectful lines between those he was charged to report on. He knew the school board members by first name, knew their families and chatted with them amicably. But he also knew that he needed to be impartial in reporting the news, that he could not accept any boon from those he covered, no matter how small, as it could be perceived as accepting compensation in return for positive coverage.

While I respect Mike's commitment to neutrality, that's not the kind of community journalist that I am.

I will eat your pizza.

I will drink your bottled water. I will buy your fundraiser coupon, attend your end-of-season awards dinner and accept your friend request on Facebook.

I believe that part of being a community journalist is being part of the community, and that's not something I can do from the sideline. I want to know all I can about the people and the places that make northern Marion County such a unique and wonderful place to live. I want to know the families who have lived here for generations, the first responders who are at the scene of every tragic fire, shooting or car crash, the teachers and school officials who are charged with educating the next generation of students.

And in turn, I want you all to know me.

I am the new managing editor of the Woodburn Independent. Some of you already know me through my years covering high school sports, others have not.

I am 35-years old, a 2001 graduate of Canby High School and a resident of the Willamette Valley for all but three years of my life. I am at heart a goofy man, as evidenced by announcing my new job title on Facebook with a cut out picture of my head crudely pasted onto a single frame from The Simpsons.

It's probably not something you'd see from Edward R. Murrow if he were alive today, but it is 100 percent genuine of who I am as a person.

I will approach my new position at the Woodburn Independent with a light spirit, but with respect for all the responsibility it entails. I have been entrusted to report the news in an accurate and ethical manner, and that is not charge I take lightly. Though it is one that I embrace.


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