Earning reader trust is a central goal for your new Oregon Capital Chronicle

The journalists will restore reporting on state government that has been eroding.

October 5, 2021 5:40 am

Oregon Capital Chronicle team, from left, Julia Shumway, Lynne Terry, Les Zaitz, Alex Baumgardt, at the Oregon Capitol. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

SALEM – These days, not enough journalistic eyes are keeping watch on Oregon state government.

That isn’t good for Oregonians or even for those in government.

Every aspect of life connects with state agencies and officials.

Decisions by the state can affect where you can build a house, how well your kids will be educated and how much money will be taxed out of your paycheck.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is here to put more eyeballs on those choices.

That watchdog function has been part of my journalistic career in Oregon for decades, and it will be central to our work for you.

It was 40 years ago that I had my first real taste of political corruption.

In 1981, I was covering the Legislature for The Oregonian when I discovered that a powerful state senator was tooling around in a gold Cadillac owned by a lobbyist.

Months of investigation followed. The state senator, it turned out, was taking payments from a private company to use his muscle to steer government business to his pals. There were Las Vegas gatherings, ocean cruises and big political gatherings attended by the most powerful people in Oregon.

The senator eventually lost a powerful committee chairmanship and was fined for ethics violations. Lawmakers reformed Oregon’s bribery laws.

Lessons from that time stay with me. The senator was popular. No one wanted to believe the stories. But the facts were there – they just had to be reported.

And that’s what we’ll do at the Capital Chronicle. We’ll dig hard, we’ll pursue the truth, and we’ll report the facts we find – no matter how much obstruction we face.

But the work of Lynne Terry, Julia Shumway and Alex Baumhardt will be wasted unless we earn your trust. Nothing – nothing – is more important to this team.

For it is with trusted information that all of us as Oregonians can help make wise and prudent choices. We hope our reporting can help move people away from confrontation to conversation. 

We don’t ever want to create the impression that every aspect of your state government is a mess.

– Editor Les Zaitz

Oregon’s future depends on all of us – citizens, businesses and government – functioning in the common interest. Too many challenges – from poverty to discrimination to the economy – are ahead.

So, what exactly will we be reporting on?

Each reporter has a portfolio of topics and government entities. We want to give you a better sense of what government is doing, what special interests are impacting public policy and who you can hold accountable.

We will shy away from the easy headline of the day, trusting that readers usually want better explanations about what some development means to them.

We will work diligently to write with clarity. Government reporting is tough in some ways and easy in others. It’s easy to sop up acronyms and dish them up in stories. It’s not so easy to translate government actions into plain English. We’ll strive to do so – and you should call us on it if our stories start reading like a government briefing paper.

We’re going to be relentless about telling you who’s not providing access. When a government agency won’t provide information, requires records requests instead of answering questions and even delays responding to those requests, you’re going to know it. We’ll tell you the name and title of those who step between us and the information Oregonians deserve.

That’s important because as the press corps in Oregon has dwindled, and government agencies have grown adept at stiff-arming journalists. That’s not just a loss of information for reporters. It’s a loss of information for you and every other taxpayer. We’ll do what we can to tip the scales back towards more candor, more disclosure.

Yet we also know that not everything in government is going wrong. My 45 years of experience leads me to conclude that most public officials are honest and want to do a good job. I know that government programs aren’t always suspect – that they succeed in feeding people, cleaning water and fixing highways.

When there is a success, we’ll report that. We don’t ever want to create the impression that every aspect of your state government is a mess. That’s not true, and it wouldn’t be right to mislead you by the choice of stories.

One other matter I want to share with you.

Reporting on government usually means we deal with confidential sources. That’s sometimes necessary to get at the truth others are trying to hide.

Our stories, though, won’t rely on anonymous sources except in rare instances. If we do so, we’ll explain why so you can judge the information. But we’re not going to allow people to hide behind a curtain to take pot shots at people or programs.

And we will treat confidential sources with care. Every member of our team is skilled at handling sensitive sources. We know how to protect them. We understand the Oregon law that provides the legal tools to do that.

That means if you have information to share but you fear intimidation or even a job loss, reach out to us. In the correct circumstance, we’ll treat you as a confidential source. But the information needs to be verifiable and of use to Oregonians.

Starting any new venture means both excitement and anxiety. We’ll stumble here and there, and hope you’ll forgive us. If we make a mistake, we’ll tell you. And we’ll fix it. 

For now, we’re off and running. We have to get to work and earn your trust.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Les Zaitz
Les Zaitz

Les Zaitz is a veteran editor and investigative reporter, serving Oregon for more than 45 years. He reported for The Oregonian for 25 years and owns community newspapers and a digital news service. He is a national SPJ fellow, two-time Pulitzer finalist, including for a lengthy investigation of Mexican drug cartels in Oregon and five-time winner of Oregon’s top investigative reporting award. He has investigated corrupt state legislators, phony charities, and an international cult that moved to Oregon, and the biggest bank failure in Oregon history. He also has been active in reforming the state’s public records law and was appointed by the governor to the Oregon Public Records Advisory Council. In his spare time, he operates a ranch nestled in a national forest, feeding horses and assorted animals.