Reporting on pandemic means focusing on the impacts on the people of Salem

Les Zaitz, editor of Salem Reporter

At Salem Reporter, we’re determined to help the community work its way through the pandemic.

Let me explain our approach.

For the moment, the coronavirus is the story of the day. Not a life in Salem is left untouched by the pandemic.

We also know you are eyeball deep in information, coming at you from a hundred sources. And we well understand the challenge of that information: Is it true?

As we have in the past months and in the months going forward, we’ll do our best to help untangle fact from fiction.

Here’s what to expect from your team at Salem Reporter.

We’ll focus on helping the community understand the torrent of developments, explaining clearly what each action means to people, to businesses, to institutions.

Family income is one key topic. Too many Salem people are still without work – or working fewer hours than before.

Unemployment is hard to come by, as the state struggles to fix its antique system. Now, the $600-a-week extra help is gone. President Trump says he’ll see that at least $400 of that will start flowing again. How that’s possible and when remain unknown.

Meantime, that means a lot of households have lost a lot of income overnight.

And the Paycheck Protection Program, which was a life preserver for many businesses, ended last week. There is no talk of that being continued, meaning business owners are now largely on their own to stay afloat.

Between the lost federal employment benefit and the end of the business loan program, the Salem area will see millions and millions of dollars stop flowing into our economy.

On top of that, the Oregon Legislature meets Monday to whittle about $1 billion out of the state budget. Salem is a state government town. A cut in state government means a cut in state paychecks and contracts flowing into Salem.

We’ll track the impacts of that all, giving you the very best read we can on how Salem’s economy is performing.

And then there are the schools.

At this hour, no student is going back to a classroom anytime soon in the Salem-Keizer School District. School administrators have scrambled all summer to prepare for opening schools, and now for virtual education.

That’s tough on the school system, of course, but it’s going to be especially tough on families. Parents who expected their children to head back to school face a big question: Now what? Staying home to teach children or affording some sort of child care are daunting choices.

On top of that, the implications of students staying home for even more weeks aren’t fully clear. They lost ground in the spring, and now they return to a virtual world of schooling. We’ll track what that means for what they learn, and we’ll track especially closely the effect on children of this new world. The mental and social well-being of children will be something we report on carefully.

And then there is the medical side of the coronavirus. In the past months, the understanding of the virus has evolved. What scientists and medical experts know seems to change by the week. And with those changes come changes in the political decisions in responding to the new information.

There remain, for instance, questions in some people about the efficacy of masks. There is confusion about what exactly the government means when it lists a death as related to Covid. And the details are rapidly changing on how children carry and react to the virus.

At Salem Reporter, we may not be able to resolve all those questions.

What we can do is give you the best local information we can find. Our stories will always cite the sourcing, so you can judge the credibility of the information. We’ll provide links to key government documents and scientific reports so you can delve deeper as your interest dictates.

At the same time, we will do what have always done – challenge government statements and decisions. With health and medical information, that is a challenge since much data is walled off for privacy.

Still, the community deserves to know the basis for government acts that can change lives overnight. On your behalf, we’ll press for the facts public officials relied on in making their choices. We’ll double-check those facts as we can. And we’ll spotlight those times when government actions are inadequate or flawed, backed by careful, fact-based reporting.

None of this is easy. But reporters Rachel Alexander, Saphara Harrell and Jake Thomas understand as do I that our community is in a critical time. We all understand your need for information you can trust and rely on.

Be assured that we are doing our level best to deliver stories that are fair and accurate. We don’t favor any particular camp or viewpoint. We don’t bring to this work any ideology.

We bring our professional passion to help by reporting on those matters that affect your life.

And we once again will be making this reporting available at no cost. It’s just that important. You can help us provide this service by subscribing if you don’t or making a contribution that is invested into more news coverage.

We’re with you, Salem.

Les Zaitz is editor of Salem Reporter. Reach him by email at [email protected]