Why local news reporting matters

Feb 28 2017 | 02:51 AM

Call us old-fashioned.
We believe in the inherent goodness of people.
We believe in conducting our business honestly, not trying to “game the system” to pay less in taxes or dodge regulations.
And we believe our job — reporting what happens locally — is vital to the well-being of our communities.
We see our calling as reporting what's happening in a fair and balanced way. We don’t take positions or tell you how to vote, or what to think. We hold the old-fashioned notion that journalists must put aside their personal biases and present multiple sides of a story.
We’re not going away. To borrow from Mark Twain: the reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated.
Because while you’re pouring orange juice for breakfast, or buckling your seatbelt, or feeling the tomatoes at the grocery store — in other words, going about your every-day routine — we’re here watching what government and law enforcement officials, developers, and school administrators are doing.
As we assemble the paper each week, we see trends. For example, when we noticed a lot of young people showing up in the police blotters for drug infractions, we undertook a number of stories about the opioid epidemic raging through our communities. This past year we talked with an articulate detective about what he had seen over decades, interviewed a young man in jail driven to crime because of his addiction, and told profiled the heart-breaking story of a heroin addict in recovery. The New Jersey Press Association recognized our reporting with first place for police and crime reporting and second place for public service this year.
We’re not liars, and we’re not “the enemy.” We’re the people whose job it is to be curious, even skeptical, and ask questions of those in power.
Our system of government was set up to ensure that no one part of government or no one person amasses too much power or control. A few years ago, the superintendent of schools in Chester, N.Y., banned our paper from the school because she didn’t like our reporting. She wanted to know who was posting derogatory comments about her on our websites. She engaged the village mayor, the police and eventually the county district attorney to force us, by way of a grand jury subpoena, to give up the person’s identity. We fought the subpoena, appealing to the courts, and won.
In our communities, our institutions and their heads — school superintendents, mayors, village managers — are powerful people. School or town employees who don’t agree with something happening in their midst can’t easily complain without fear of retribution or get a job somewhere else.
Professional, experienced and honorable journalists are the only ones with the time to watch and listen and report what’s going on because the rest of us have to go about our busy lives.
As Dan Rather wrote last summer:

This is not about politics or policy. It's about protecting our most cherished principles. The relationship between the press and the powerful they cover is by its very definition confrontational. That is how the Founding Fathers envisioned it, with noble clauses of protection enshrined in our Constitution. Good journalism — the kind that matters — requires reporters who won't back up, back down, back away or turn around when faced with efforts to intimidate them. It also requires owners and other bosses with guts, who stand by and for their reporters when the heat is on.
I still believe the pen is mightier than the sword. And in these conflicted and troubled times, we should reward the bravery of the men and women not afraid to ask the hard questions of everyone in power. Our nation's future depends on it.

Have something you’d like us to look into? Call me: Publisher Jeanne Straus, or the editor at 570-296-0700. Contact me by email me at jeanne.straus@strausnews.com.
Jeanne Straus is President and Publisher of Straus News, which publishes The Pike County Courier in Pike County, Pa.; The West Milford Messenger in Passaic County, N.J.; The Advertiser News North, The Advertiser News South, The Sparta Independent, and The Township Journal in Sussex County, N.J.; and The Chronicle, The Warwick Advertiser, and The Photo News in Orange County, N.Y.