Les Zaitz, CEO and editor of Salem Reporter. (David Zaitz Photography)
About six months ago, Salem Reporter came to life in town and we haven’t caught our breath yet.
We started in a time of tremendous uncertainty in the news profession. Across the country, newsrooms continue to trim back or go dark entirely. Every month seems to bring word of another round of layoffs, meaning fewer reporters watching over government and powerful forces.
We came alive at a time you have incredible access to information on the web. You can find news on any topic at any hour that suits your interests. The growing challenge is finding websites you can trust.
Not so easy to find these days is local news, produced by skilled journalists whose only duty is to the truth. Even in Oregon, newsrooms are slimmer and slimmer.
Our ambition at Salem Reporter is sharply focused on delivering local news about Salem that either isn’t getting reported, or isn’t getting reported very incisively.
We do that with a talented team of veteran reporters in Rachel Alexander, Troy Brynelson and Aubrey Wieber. These three are determined to earn your trust and support, knowing the community will judge them every day for the work they do.
Honestly, I couldn’t be happier with this squad. They have been ceaseless in learning about Salem. They have been to coffee with so many community leaders that we ought to have a permanent booth assigned to us at a local coffee house. They have appeared at just about every Salem neighborhood association, to talk about Salem Reporter and to meet the people who can help us tell the story of Salem. They have invited people to join them after work for a beer and conversation.
Along the way, they have produced a respectable body of work.
They have delivered revealing watchdog reports, such as the examination of the troubles of the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation, the money politics behind Covanta’s effort to get special tax treatment, and the travails of a former Salem police officer.
The team kept you closely informed on the changes coming in local school boundaries, the fight to keep alive a third bridge for Salem, and the challenging health issues of the late Dennis Richardson, Oregon’s secretary of state.
We shared stories of success, ranging from the profile of First Citizen Ken Jundt to the story of Chuck Zobrist, the 80-year-old Salem man who collects pop bottles and cans to get money to put on a charitable Thanksgiving meal. We even gave a camera to a Salem homeless person and shared later how he chronicled his life on the streets. And we teamed up with journalism students at Chemeketa Community College to share their work and help them along.
Along the way, Salem Reporter has aggressively sought to pry open government files to share information with you. Our reporters have applied the state’s public records law to get documents from city, county and school officials. When we have been turned down, we didn’t give up.
We sought the intervention of district attorneys, hoping our arguments in the public interest would result in access to the records. So far, we’ve lost more than we have won but we’ll keep trying. Secrecy in government ought to be fought, not obligingly accepted.
And, I believe, we have been faithful to our promise to Salem to provide journalism that is accurate, in-depth and can be trusted.
Some of you may still wonder about the role of Larry Tokarski, the president of Mountain West Investment Corp. who funded the start of Salem Reporter. Early on, I heard concerns that Tokarski would use Salem Reporter for his own purposes. Tokarski has made good on his promise to leave the news content entirely in my hands. He has made no attempt to influence our coverage. He’s never even been to the Salem Reporter office.
Salem Reporter remains a work in progress. We want to grow our news team and expand our reporting. We get more requests to cover or publicize events than we have staff to handle. We have investigative reporting work waiting in line for attention.
But the fact is we depend on the people of Salem to succeed at any of this. Salem Reporter’s revenue comes exclusively from digital subscribers. Those subscriptions pay our overhead and the salaries of Rachel, Troy and Aubrey. Believe me, we run lean and put every dollar possible into reporting the news.
Thousands now read us and our base of subscribers grows by the day, but we have a way to go to meet our objective to be sustainable, to be here for you and Salem in the long run.
You can help build our muscle.
If you believe in the need for the kind of news we deliver, sign up for a subscription. If you have a subscription already, be an ambassador for us. Share our stories to your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pals.
If you run a business in town, now’s the time to add Salem Reporter to your marketing mix. We’re not looking for charity. We’re looking to put your business in front of people who are intensely interested in Salem.
If you have story tips or suggestions, send them my way or reach out to your favorite reporter.
At the end of the day, my opinion about how we are doing doesn’t matter much. More important is what you think about how we’re performing. For it is that judgment and, we hope, the accompanying subscription, that validates our assessment that Salem needs and wants the kind of journalism we aim to deliver.
Give us our six-month report card. What stories did you like? What stories could you have done without? What didn’t you like about our performance so far? What’s not getting covered that you’d like to hear more about? How clear and balanced do our stories seem? Be candid, but please be civil.
We’re ready to hear our marks. What say you, Salem?
Les Zaitz, editor and CEO; reach me by email at [email protected]
A sampling of stories cited in this column:
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