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Crosstalk:An inside look at a newspaper’s role

by Mark Gibson

October is National Newspaper Month, and it's worth thinking about why newspapers — especially community newspapers — are of value.

It doesn't really matter what form a newspaper is published in — print, on a website or digitally — your community newspaper provides stories and information gathered and presented according to standards developed over a long tradition of telling the truth in a fair and transparent manner.

Take news photographs.

When The Dalles Chronicle transitioned from mechanical photo reproduction to digital processing in 1997, using the “Adobe Photoshop” software, the question immediately arose — exactly how much digital editing is acceptable in a newsroom?

Our first rule, we decided, was to restrict image manipulation to techniques available in the traditional print darkroom. Lightening and darkening areas of the photograph, removing scratches and spots, cropping. No problem.

Over the years, as editing software and digital camera techniques became increasingly sophisticated, the standard broadened to accommodate those unfamiliar with the traditional darkroom: We do not manipulate reality.

A photographer might darken a distracting background to draw the eye away. One example I personally recall is an electrical outlet that jars with the historical nature of a theater performance. I would have liked to remove the outlet altogether, which could have been easily done. But that would have changed reality — the electrical outlet was there — I couldn't just remove it.

If I had, I would have risked calling into question the truthfulness of every future photograph published in our newspaper.

This became quite clear when we recently published a photograph of a ribbon cutting that was provided us by an outside source. I printed a copy of the image and took it to the business involved to get names of the central group, wrote a caption and printed it in the paper.

The photograph, I later learned, had been manipulated — the logo of a potential competitor on the shirt of one of the Chamber Ambassadors had been blacked out.

Not surprisingly, a great many readers believed the censorship was performed by the Chronicle.

It wasn't, and the un-manipulated photograph was published online and again in the newspaper as soon as we obtained it, to “set the record straight.”

Manipulating the content of a photograph isn't the only way to misrepresent the news. An editor or photographer can, simply by selecting a camera angle or choosing one photograph over another, present a biased or incomplete truth.

Such decisions are not easy to detect, and a photographer has to constantly ask “Am I being fair? Does my work represent what really happened?” Individuals will make different decisions, which is why both photographs and stories published in your newspaper are credited to the author.

Of course, newspapers aren't the only media striving to present a fair and accurate portrait of our world.

They do, however, provide unique opportunities that other local and regional media do not.

One of the most important is the ability of the reader to “set the record straight” as they see it. They do this in the form of a “Letter to the editor,” a newspaper tradition.

At the Chronicle, letters need only be free of slander and libel — and limited to 400 words — to be published. It doesn't matter if they are critical of the Chronicle, the government, or present an unpopular view.

Your thoughts are important to us, just as they are important to the freedom of our republic and the health and well being of our community.

The power of the press belongs to those who read the newspapers printed on them.

by RaeLynn Ricarte

This week The Chronicle editorial board, made up of Mark and I, joined by five community members — a mix of liberal, conservative and independent — will convene for endorsement meetings.

We will be making decisions on the city council races, as well as those at the state and federal levels, excluding the president because we have something else planned there.

Government reporter Jesse Burkhardt will write a column in support of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and I will write one for Republican candidate Donald Trump. We will feature these opinion pieces in the Oct. 27 edition of the Chronicle.

The editorial board will also discuss and decide whether to endorse or oppose the local fire bond and seven state measures.

Our reasoning behind each decision, and some of the notes from our debate, will be aired along with our choices on Oct. 23 and 30.

There was a time when I did not believe a newspaper should endorse. I saw our role as getting stories out about the stance of each candidate and then stepping back and letting voters decide without further input.

However, over the years I have come to see that we are often privy to information about what is going on behind the scenes in our watchdog role, which provides us with a more in-depth perspective than many folks.

It becomes our responsibility to share what we know and how that might affect the governance of a potential elected official.

Our watchdog role during elections is to keep candidates on an even playing field and also extends to our Opinion page.

When spurious claims are made or facts distorted to sway public sentiment about an issue, it is our job to fact check and decide whether the letter should be printed.

We try to land on the side of free expression but sometimes we blow it.

That happened earlier this month with the printing of a letter that accused AmeriTies of destroying the health of the community.

The author, who moved into town this year, went so far as to accuse the company of “murder” by spewing toxins that had caused people for several decades to die of an assortment of diseases.

Reporters discussed this letter and we waffled back and forth about whether to publish it or not. If a person had been accused of murdering people, but never convicted, we would not have run the accusation. However, the issue of air quality had generated a lot of public discussion at numerous meetings and protests. We decided the letter reflected the opposition movement enough to print it.

That was a bad decision because the letter stated that AmeriTies was pumping “unfiltered and unregulated” chemicals into the air. We had been so focused on the tone of the letter and the reference to murder that we overlooked this unfounded allegation, which was just plain untrue.

AmeriTies is regularly monitored by the state and mandated to comply with numerous air quality regulations.

With so much information bombarding us all the time, and a daily deadline to meet that requires quick decisions, we don’t always get it right. And we can just as easily come under fire when we do.

In July several readers cancelled subscriptions after we published the story of a transgender woman who wanted help raising funds so she could travel to The Dalles to visit her daughter and meet her grandchildren.

We were told that our choice of a story was “disgusting,” among other comments.

It is our job to present both sides of issues that arise.

We take that balance very seriously and work hard to make sure all voices are heard.

I ask that you please take our reader survey (available online or copies can be picked up at the office) and let us know how we are doing, and what we can do better.


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