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How a weekly newspaper in Oregon shined a light on government secrecy

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Your tassel has been turned and you’ve gotten your diploma. Many of you have had the bittersweet moment of putting your last edition of the school newspaper to bed. I’m sure your professors, graduation speakers, parents and mentors have all given you more sage advice than you know what to do with, but somehow you’ve stumbled upon this post. While I can’t promise to offer “sage” advice, I can promise you honesty. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the world of modern journalism that you’re about to step into.

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Lost in the shuffle of headlines about FBI Director James Comey’s firing is a telling quote from Kellyanne Conway that sheds a frightening light on how the Trump administration views the role of the press.

In an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Conway dropped the following on viewers:

“You want to question the timing of when he fires? When he hires? It’s inappropriate.”

Let’s let that sink in for a moment. One of the top advisors at the White House just said that it is “inappropriate” for the press to question the president of the United States.

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If you’re a new to journalism and covering a beat that involves government meetings, you may find yourself struggling with how take a rather bland government meeting and turn it into a compelling story. This is a common problem many journalists face, as the material covered in these often sparsely attended meetings is important, but tends to get bogged down in procedure. Here are a few helpful tips to make the necessary details stand out.

DON’T USE JARGON
When you first start covering government meetings, you might get lost in some of the jargon. Bureaucrats like to use abbreviations and obscure terms. However, after covering several meetings you will actually start to understand the language being used by government workers. When you do, remember that readers don’t understand or have much use for government jargon. Readers don’t distinguish between easements and stream buffers and they don’t know what an R-12 rezoning application is. It can be tough, but the job of the local journalist is to break down jargon into layman’s terms.

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Facebook has launched a new type of news feed for select users. The new feed is accessible through a “rocket ship” icon in the facebook app on mobile devices. The rocket’s sudden arrival is good news for publishers and may indicate a new willingness by the social network giant to work with media companies.

This new feed allows users to see updates from pages they may be interested in, but have not yet interacted with based on their current page likes. While this is good news for all publishers, it will be particularly helpful to small publishers who don’t have the budget to take advantage of Facebook’s “boost post” feature.

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The Malheur Enterprise is a small, family-run weekly newspaper serving Malheur County Oregon. Malheur County is the poorest county in Oregon according to U.S. Census results, with 21 percent of its residents living in poverty. The county isn’t even in the same timezone as the rest of the state.

Earlier this year, the Enterprise filed an open records request to the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board regarding 15 unreleased documents relating to Anthony W. Montwheeler, an accused murderer whom the board said had been faking a mental illness to avoid prison for kidnapping his wife and son in 1996. Montwheeler was released from the board’s jurisdiction. In January, he was arrested for kidnapping and stabbing his ex-wife before causing a car accident that killed his ex-wife, David Bates and injuring Bates’ wife, Jessica.

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Is it time for newspapers to say goodbye to their opinion sections? I’ve always been a defender of the opinion page for its tradition of unsigned editorials that motivate societal change, and for its ability to create a forum to discuss a wide array of differing viewpoints through columns and letters to the editor. But I’m also not blind to the fact that today’s newspaper readers in large numbers don’t seem to “get it.”

Readers don’t have the same relationship with newspapers as they once did. Readers aren’t looking to newspapers to be the forum of cutting-edge thought and discourse anymore.

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Last week, a story broke revealing that Mike Pence used his private AOL email to conduct government business while he was Governor of Indiana.

As would be expected with a story of this nature, it became one of the top stories on cable news for a couple of days. For most Americans, that is where most news stories originate — which is sad considering that the cable news formula consists of seconds of reporting followed by an hour of punditry.

If you are someone who gets the bulk of their news from television, you may be shocked to learn that CNN and Fox news don’t break most of the stories they report.

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I’ve spent the last few days pondering what to write about Friday’s chapter in the continued saga between the White House and the press. To be honest, I am still baffled by the whole thing, so this post will probably be raw and unpolished.

To recap, during his address at CPAC, President Trump reiterated his claim that the media is the enemy of the American people. Hours later, his press secretary Sean Spicer put his stamp on that claim by excluding CNN, The New York Times and Politico from an informal press gaggle.

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