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Putting community back into community journalism

It’s hard to believe that 33 years ago this month I was settling into my first year at Southern Illinois University, a scrawny journalism major with big ambitions.

I was a Watergate Baby. I grew up with Pentagon Papers, Woodward and Bernstein and that infamous 181?„2-minute gap in the Oval Office tape.

I embraced the motto of Mother Jones, the muckraking journalist and social activist who said it was her mission to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

My career, I believed, would take me to Washington, D.C., or New York City where I could take down corrupt politicians, expose corporate greed and “speak truth to power.”

And, after a year of grad school and an internship with the Chicago Tribune, that path seemed wide open as I got a job in the Windy City with a investigative magazine whose alums went on to work for the Chicago Sun-Times, the Dallas Morning News and the fabled Washington Post.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Beltway.

First, was a geographic detour. My wife, Karen, and I moved to Portland 22 years ago so that she (a recovering journalist) could attend Lewis & Clark Law School.

I landed a position with Willamette Week newspaper, where for 14 years I was part of a team that found a variety of ways to afflict the comfortable (including a guy named Neil Goldschmidt).

Then came the professional zig-zag.

In 2005, I became the editor and publisher of the News-Times in Forest Grove, where our family had been living for more than 10 years.

During the past seven years, I have still managed to annoy those in high places (as a couple former mayors of Cornelius will confirm).

But I’ve also learned to practice a different kind of journalism — one that focuses more on neighborhood news and, in variety of ways, fills the second half of Mother Jones’ job description.

A good community newspaper retains a fiercely independent newsroom, whose reporters and editors work for its readers, not its advertisers or those in power.

That may involve prying loose public documents and stepping on the toes, but it also means promoting the arts, celebrating civic achievements helping non-profit groups, schools and other organizations publicize their fundraisers and other community events.

Walking that journalistic tightrope requires lasting relationships built on trust, something that come only with time and sustained personal involvement. And, that’s the journey we start today with the first issue of the Hillsboro Tribune.

Like many westside residents, my exploration of Hillsboro began with my kids. Both played rec soccer, which gave me a tour of just about every ball field in the city limits. (There was one fall where it seemed like we lived at Powerline Park.)

My passport to the city was next stamped by its cultural ambassadors. Since 2009, the News-Times has published a quarterly Washington County Arts Guide (the fall guide is included in this week’s Tribune) and I’ve gotten to know the wonderfully creative staff members at Bag&Baggage, HART Theatre, the Walters Cultural Arts Center and Sequoia Gallery.

Since then, my son’s weekly drum lessons at MIR music have given me an excuse to hang out downtown every Wednesday afternoon.

So, while I’m familiar with the city, I’ve got a lot to learn and am excited by the prospect.

If you had told me 33 years ago that someday I’d be helping start a small paper in Hillsboro, I’d have scoffed. Joining the Chamber of Commerce, dropping by the Rotary Club and (heaven forbid!) selling ads, was no way to fight the man!

I still believe in the “power of the free press.” It’s just that my understanding of that term has broadened.

And to those who scoff today at the idea of print journalism as a growth industry, I’d point to the success that our company’s papers have had, even during the Great Recession. While larger, metro daily papers are struggling, readers and advertisers across the country have shown they still value local, community-focused reporting.

So, while I’ve given up (at least for now) my plans to bring to bring down a president on the Potomac, I’m excited to be part of a new venture that should help bring together the residents of Hillsboro.

Publisher John Schrag can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.