Oregonian: too much "government" news?

Kris Kodrich, a Colorado State journalism prof, spent six weeks toiling in the Big O's newsroom and studying the inner workings of the paper - and had some thoughts after it was all over:

Readers should be surprised regularly on Page One with both important AND interesting local news stories, well-written ones resulting in chuckles and chortles. The Portland area is a fascinating place -- wonderfully eclectic, eccentric and entertaining -- yet that's not consistently reflected in The Oregonian's news coverage.

Government stories? Borrrring

A few surprises lurked in the pages: Stories about the odd characters inhabiting the world of cable-access television, the strange lack of children in the Pearl District, the offbeat roadside attractions around the state and the sad death of a homeless man hit by a stray bullet in a downtown shooting. All great stories, yet none was on Page One.

Instead, government process stories dominate. My first day on the job, the top Page One headline was "Rifts in Legislature leave goals in political graveyard." The top headline on Page One nearly six weeks later? "Deal in hand; Votes in air." I don't exactly know what that headline means, but I do know the Legislature was winding down its session -- and dominating coverage -- for much of the summer.

Is he right? Does the Oregonian cover too much government and politics -- or not enough? Or, not well enough?


  • MissChiefious (unverified)

    Unfortunately government should be big news, because they are making the laws and rules we have to live by. To be real honest with you I am sick of hearing how I count because unless we can dig up real dirt on someone making worse choices for my family, neighbors and friends than I can do on my worsest days and get those people out it really doesn't matter. Dirt counts, gossip rules and shuning is the way of life. Much like Europe big business controls politics and the regular Joes are just well people who are used for their taxes, gases, over the top grocery bills, etc.. so off to work we go..... We have heard long enough how we can help our schools, elders, needy, etc.... so lets hike our taxes on the backs of our working poor but before the new bill in our pockets inked dryed on the newspaper comes frivilous spending. I was disillusioned the first time I voted for more of our hard earned money to go to well, where ever it goes to. Many, many many moons so please don't waste my time with something that I have no say so in. Lip service worked for a while, I bought into it. Yes I want to believe we count and our country is way above the junkie mentality of our political system and yes I do see the big picture, but at this point I am numb,,,, The Oregonian is right we should care but I am tired of caring. I am putting my energy where it counts, where I make a difference, while I still have a roof over my head and am not one of those wandering homeless, disallusioned. I'm teach my kids values instead of having no parent home, allowing children to raise themselfs while I and my spouse have to work more and more, to pay taxes, get lip service, and then someone asks why don't I want to read the Oregonians front page about politics,..... hehehe Don't get me started!.......

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    To say I was dumbfounded by Kodrich's column is an understatement. I kept trying to determine if it was just satire. The Oregonian has too much news about government and politics. Are we reading the same paper? Do the citizens of this state actually know what is going on in Salem?

    One of the reasons that I love BlueOregon is that I finally have a source of info. that helps me know what is going on since I honestly can not find it from the Oregonian and we all know that TV doesn't cover Salem unless sex or ugly conflict is involved. What was this guy smoking?

    I have known for some time that the media world has shifted from news to entertainment. Politics is for screaming at each other not finding out the facts and then making an intelligent pragmatic decision. However, I had been under the misconception that our universities still taught that papers should deliver news and not just entertainment. Now I have been relieved of that fantasy.

  • LT (unverified)

    Recently in a conversation with a couple of politically well informed friends, the subject of what "the media" report came up. One friend said that "all the media cares about is who has the most money".

    I pointed out that had been the attitude towards Francesconi before the surprise primary showing of Tom Potter, but Potter's success changed the nature of the debate.

    The Oregonian did a good job of summaries at the end of the session. Sometimes they do excellent coverage of government and politics, and sometimes they don't. Who else did the 2004 coverage of the intersection of Gen. McPeak, Jim Rassman, and the Swifties, esp. Al French? Certainly not the national media or much of the Oregon media.

    I know some journalists hate "process stories" just like they hate stories they think of as "been there, done that"--like administrator salaries, staff salaries in legislative leadership offices, etc. But how else is the public to be informed?

    What is the role of a newspaper in these days of instant communication if not to provide more detail than can be found on broadcast news? Yes, sometimes the coverage could be more in depth. Who deprived Scott of votes within his caucus making his attack on Roblan (for not voting with him on the education budget) a necessity? If Scott had 30 other votes besides himself for that education budget vote, why would he need Roblan--or was that just bullying that backfired bigtime? What hold did the House majority caucus have on members that Vicki Berger only said what made her uncomfortable about her caucus after the Sine Die gavel fell?

    Today Hurricane Katrina deserves to be on the front page, but there are days when the legislature or other branches of government should be on the front page--SB 1 passing, the revenue forecast, the report on the future of the Oregon State Hospital, a powerplay which worked or went sour affecting lots of people, etc.

    And if a journalism prof doesn't like it that isn't my problem!

  • keyfur (unverified)

    the o needs to cover oregon politics differently. newspapers should be devoted to in depth coverage of the issues. newspapers are where we can find out about issues at our leisure. the o needs to spend more time answering "how?" and "why?" than it currently does. most of the o's coverage boils down to "what?" and "where?" and we can find that out in 2 seconds from the evening news. if the o wants to differentiate itself it needs to spend the time on issues that tv news won't (can't?) to give us more than a surface understanding of the issues. we should care about oregon government, does the o give us the resources to care?

    anybody know if i should start turning to the statesman-journal for government coverage?

    by the way, a friend's blog spent last time talking about how to fix the o. (he's no expert or insider, so not many amazing ideas.)

  • LT (unverified)

    anybody know if i should start turning to the statesman-journal for government coverage?

    During session, SJ often competes with Oregonian on legislative coverage. But the end of session award has to go to Oregonian for more detailed summaries of what happened.

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    Keyfur -- Here's the right link that you tried to give us. Good criticism of the Oregonian, too.

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    Yes, it would be nice to see livelier writing. But why must there be a trade off? Government stories are often boring to many people, but they do matter, whether the good professor finds them boring or not. And they do belong on the front page. And, no, each story doesn't need some moronic "case study" where some citizen joe or jane is introduced to us in the story's beginning and never heard from again until the end.

    Also, I love this item from his scribbling: "I don't exactly know what that headline means..."

    Hey, genius, how about you read the story? That might clue you in. Idiot j-profs drive me nuts.

  • keyfur (unverified)

    thanks go out to lt and kari for answering my question and fixing my screw-up respectivly.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    So the outside expert comes in and tells the Oregonian how to do their business. Well, I'm used to that - it happens in Rural Oregon all the time. Doesn't work very well does it?

    Question of Identity? Is the Oregonian a paper for the city, or a paper for the State? I read the Oregonian almost every day, probably 26 days a month - here in Prineville at the center of the State. I read over the front page, and mainly I read the editorial page. Sports holds little interest for me, and occasionally I will look into other sections of the paper.

    Frankly, the government stories are the most interesting. What do I care about events on Lombard, 23rd, or Broadway Streets when those streets are 150 miles away? But what the State government does affects what I can do right here on my two and a half acres. I care greatly about what State government does.

    If the Oregonian wants to dumb itself down, well I guess it is the right of the owners to do that. I thought it was already dumb enough. And the movie Dumb and dumberer has already been made - so the Oregonian won't break new ground there. Freedom of the press belongs to those that own the press.

    Perhaps the Stateman Journal should start selling papers Statewide.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    After reading the entire Kodrich piece, I think he has a point. After all, a newspaper needs to cover its community on several levels, among which government and business are just two. Newspapers do need feature stories--not necessarily big news, but interesting ancecdotes, vignettes, interviews and longer stories that clue us into the human condition on our part of the world.

    Doug Baker did this quite well in the Oregon Journal, back when we truly had a two-newspaper town. His son Spencer had done some of the same at times for The O. Steve Duin occasionally hits this kind of note, though lately, his role has been to play the counterpoint to the Oregonian's editorial board (and for this, I'm greatly indebted to him).

    Some of the best reporting of the past several years, particularly about government and the critical issues of our time, has been published in The New Yorker. Yet the front of each issue contains the Talk of the Town, which usually contains one critique of the Bush Administration and several other quirky stories about people in New York. And those are the stories I read first and if they weren't in there, I probably would not be a subscriber.

    That's not to say that the O or any other newspaper should start running front page articles on Jessica Simpson or Laci Peterson or the other subjects of supermarket tabloids. A good paper can run features that truly tell us something about ourselves and do it intelligently.

    As for the Statesman-Journal, it has always covered the legislature well, but then, it's in Salem, where all the action is. Does anyone read the Daily Astorian? I was reading it a lot a few years ago and found it a wellspring of good information that no one else was running. The editor is Steve Forrester, whose family has been publishing newspapers in rural Oregon ever since the wagon trains rolled in.

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    The O, like any city paper, is better when it has competition. When I was a pup, both it and the then-Capitol Journal had that competition.

    <h2>If the Willamette Week could turn into Willamette Day, that'd be a step in the right direction.</h2>
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