Hitting the reset button
Trust is something that must be shared for a relationship to be functional.
It has become apparent that the Tidings no longer has the trust of the majority of the West Linn City Council and despite our considerable and genuine soul-searching we do not feel this distrust is merited. Because of the prolonged persecution of the Tidings by the council (again, not all members) and after observing firsthand its general dysfunction and lack of regard for many residents, the Tidings finds it has also lost respect for the council. In case you aren't aware and haven't been hanging on every piece of drama coming out of West Linn City government, here's the latest:
In a Monday, Oct. 22 work session, the Council discussed House Bill 2001, which dramatically changed how communities can zone their neighborhoods. There was discussion about how unworkable the new mandates may be in West Linn and whether it was worthwhile for the City to push back against the new law. Our reporter posted a story about the meeting online later in the week. Monday, Oct. 29 we received an op-ed piece from Rep. Rachel Prusak (too late for publishing that week and later withdrawn by Prusak) expressing concern about the council's stance. Prusak's office sent the op-ed out to other media outlets, where it was published. Our original story was not published anywhere else, despite Councilor Teri Cummings' concern expressed in an indignant email that " Pamplin media continues to spread the erroneous information, as if it is a fact, to other venues."
Unbeknownst to us (HB 2001 opposition by communities around Oregon was old news, we thought), the topic must have hit the proverbial fan after the story ran and members of council were hearing statements of concern regarding its perceived anti-affordable housing stance.
Thus, 9 DAYS after the story published, we heard from Councilor Cummings, blaming us for the brouhaha because our "choice of words was inflammatory." Guess it wasn't inflammatory enough for her to reach out when it was published and she read it; that realization didn't seem to occur to her until she started getting complaints. In her mind, the council's expressed wish to challenge the state mandate was not what had people upset but instead it was primarily because the reporter had used the word "defy" in place of "challenge."
And that, she insisted, made all the trouble our fault, not the council's. Councilor Rich Sakelik went even further, calling out our reporter and the Tidings in general during a televised Council work session, claiming "it's a shame we can't get better out of our local media."
The screeching sound of institutional backpedaling was near deafening as members of the council continued to defend the Oct. 22 conversation, blaming the newspaper for the uproar. Only Mayor Russ Axelrod took ownership of his own words (which he felt were 'used out of context') and apologized to those who were upset.
The realization that our relationship with the City Council is broken caused us to wonder if citizens feel the same. Are you fed up with the prolonged and unproductive meetings? Would you like to go a week without hearing about how the council bickered amongst itself and failed to make progress in city business?
We are realizing that it may be time it hit the reset button on the Tidings' coverage of the West Linn City Council. Perhaps it's not the best use of time to send a reporter to cover a five-hour meeting taken up with issues that have dragged on for months with no end in sight. How many more interesting topics could that reporter write about in that time, more varied and interesting things going on in the city?
This reset could manifest itself in different ways. We could simply modify our coverage and not be present for every drawn-out discussion the council has. Or we could give those stories less priority in the paper, moving them to the back to give visibility to more positive, healthy things going on in the community. Or it could be that you think that's our role: attending all the prolonged, redundant city council meetings, so you don't have to.
We do understand the importance of being present at council meetings. Holding the council accountable for their actions by reporting on what they do is our job.
It would be good to have our readers' input on this decision, to know what you want out of your hometown paper. Also, if we're going to cover city government less, we'll be relying on your tips to let us know what your other priorities are, what topics would make good news stories.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.