Reporter Aubrey Wieber of Salem Reporter (Salem Reporter/Troy Brynelson)
Editor’s note: This is the first of a continuing series of personal columns from the staff of Salem Reporter to the community explaining how we perform our journalism.
On the eve of publishing my most high-profile story for Salem Reporter, I got a call from a source saying my information was wrong.
The story grew from a tip I received my first week on the job here in Salem and had been reported for months. I’d repeatedly fact checked every word. It had been through round after round of edits. The last thing I wanted to hear was that my report was based on bad information. I was leaving on vacation at 6 a.m. the next morning, and I didn’t want this looming over my trip. I wanted to publish it and move on to other projects.
But I paused. I called my editor and we talked about it. We were confident in the sources behind my article. We had been very careful. Nonetheless, the story now required more vetting and reporting. Within a couple days, I had what I needed to verify our facts and the story was published.
It was a learning experience — the type I had hoped for when I joined Salem Reporter. I had worked with good editors at good newspapers, but I wanted to tackle the big stories I wouldn’t get in larger newsrooms. I wanted to learn how to do those stories the right way.
My first few months with Salem Reporter has brought several learning experiences. Reporting on state politics was a big change from covering the criminal justice system. I found sources far more willing to share juicy secrets, but quickly realized there is an extra layer of spin on everything in the political world. Sources might be more eager to pass along information, but they are often shy about attaching their name to it.
And while the courts slowly grind forward, day after day, politics moves in bursts and lulls. Between the legislative session, campaign season or releasing a budget, those in and around state government want to catch their breaths.
Through it all, I’ve had a lot of fun. Being back in my home state and competing against bylines I’ve read for years on some of the state’s biggest news has been thrilling. The new beat and location have provided welcome change, but so has my new employer.
In every story I write for Salem Reporter, Les Zaitz refuses to let me forget, even momentarily, why I am writing it. Throughout our office we have our statement of principles and ethics guidelines posted on the walls. Less tangible but equally as prevalent is our unofficial mantra, “What does this mean for Oregonians?”
That question has been hammered into our staff day after day as we strive to move beyond the numbers and titles to tell our readers who is making decisions and how readers will feel the impacts.
I look forward to my next three months, and the three after that. I look forward to more big stories, more learning experiences and continuing to build trust with the readers who support us.
Reporter Aubrey Wieber: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.