Journalists Cathy Ingalls and Ron Cooper stepped up to help Salem Reporter provide deeper coverage of the community. They each have significant track records in Oregon journalism. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Restoring trust in the media is a major objective for those of us at Salem Reporter.

Since our launch two years ago, we have worked tirelessly to be fair, objective and transparent.

We know readers are suspicious of the press. We know some watch like hawks for any signs of bias.

And we know that you hunger for a place to go for news that matters to you and that you find credible.

In recent months, two veteran journalists have stepped up to help us.

Photojournalist Ron Cooper and reporter Cathy Ingalls are both retired. They had long careers in Oregon journalism. They are professionals in every sense of the word.

We are so lucky to have them in our corps – and so are you.

Ron didn’t start out in journalism.

Out of college, he was a debt collector. Let him tell you why that didn’t last:

“It was the most miserable job I can possibly imagine,” he writes. “After a physical encounter with two guys in the parking lot of a Bend restaurant that sent me to the emergency room for treatment, I had an epiphany.”

He quit the collections business and crossed the state to work for the La Grande Observer newspaper. He didn’t have journalism training and his photography skills were self-taught.

Ron notes that, at the time, he was encouraged in the profession by a reporter who was the Salem bureau chief for UPI – Clarence Zaitz. That reporter is my father. Our family journalism connections run deep in Oregon.

Ron moved back across the state in 1969 to join the staff of the Oregon Statesman. That was in the days when Salem had the Statesman, a morning newspaper, and the Capital Journal, which published in the afternoons. The two papers were bought in 1973 by Gannett, which seven years later folded them into a single paper.

In his career, Ron photographed every president from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton. He twice traveled to the former Soviet Union on assignment. He has covered everything from jetliner crashes to house fires.

He retired from the Statesman Journal in 2001, closing out a 32-year career with the Statesman.

But he didn’t put away his cameras. He has developed quite a following for his spectacular scenic photos from the area, many hanging in banks, the offices of Salem’s doctors and dentists and more. In 2016, he took on drone photography ­­– and mastered it.

As the Salem Reporter came to life, Ron reached out: Could he help? He wasn’t looking for job. He wasn’t looking for pay. He was looking to help restore credible journalism and offered his expertise and credentials.

He still has the journalistic instincts, clearly. He’s helped with all manner of photography – including aerial photography that adds a new dimension to our work. He headed into the Santiam Canyon soon as it was possible, providing some of the earliest and most haunting photos of the destruction up there.

But he has done Salem Reporter another huge favor – he recruited Cathy Ingalls to help as well.

Cathy comes from a storied news family in Oregon.

Her grandfather bought the Corvallis Gazette-Times in 1915, and her father succeeded as publisher, running the newspaper until retiring in 1982. Cathy had been going into the newspaper office since she was a child.

She married and moved to Colorado in 1969, working for a magazine company. In 1974, she returned to Oregon to start a journalism career here that would roll out for decades.

Cathy spent those early months with the Newport News-Times and then hired on at the Capital Journal. Her job was assistant women’s editor.

“I would have preferred to cover hard news but at that time not many women were accepted into the newsrooms,” Cathy writes.

When the two Salem papers merged, she got her shot a hard news, covering police and local government. In 1989, she left Salem to join the newsroom of the Albany Democrat-Herald. She retired from there in 2013.

Cathy is just such a solid reporter. She writes cleanly. She’s not trying to impress anyone with novel prose. She is alert to possible stories and has been hugely helpful at providing us coverage of Salem people and events. She connects well with people, and that’s a huge plus in this era of suspicion of journalists.

Ingalls’ deep roots in the area and in journalism mean she brings to her work for us a perspective hard to find these days.

And she is about as modest as they come. Earlier in the summer, I had a fruit-and-produce box delivered to her as a small thanks for her help. She reacted as if I just sent her tickets for a two-week ocean cruise.

Others have been helping as well.

Mary Louise VanNatta

Mary Louise VanNatta, a nationally-recognized public relations expert, from the early days of Salem Reporter provided reporting on local cultural and nonprofit events. She has her own long history in Salem and she brings that to her mission to help. Her father, Fred VanNatta, was a long-time lobbyist and political activist. Mary Louise has been CEO of VanNatta Public Relations since 1994.

Mary Louise has helped me and the rest of the Salem Reporter team catch stories or developments in the community that otherwise might have slipped by without notice. She catches our errors, always gracefully but directly calling them to my attention.

She has a deep passion for Salem, obviously, and she acts on that with her service to Salem Reporter. Now, if we could only get the pandemic out of the way and get her back out to gallery openings and charity fundraisers.

All in all, I couldn’t be more proud of the help we get at Salem Reporter. We need it, frankly, because we’re still too lean to get to everything we want to cover. But that people of such experience and quality help pull our journalistic load should say a lot to you.

In an era when news organizations are cutting back, we’re trying to go the other direction. With the invaluable help of Ron, Cathy, Mary Louise and others, we’re providing you news reports you would never otherwise read.

I wanted to publicly call out their work and introduce them more fully to the community, though really not one needs my introduction.

And you can help, too. Subscribe, contribute or advertise. Build on the work that’s gone on the past two years, and ensure that Ron, Cathy and Mary Louise feel justified in their decision to help us help the community.

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

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