The news just isnt as depressing as it used to be
(Former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections and contributes a regular column.)
Being a professional news-gathering journalist-type guy, I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the news business, and I can tell you that the news - at least the kind we report in your typical weekly or monthly community paper - is nowhere near as gruesome as it used to be.
Of course, I'm the first to admit that I don't believe much of anything is quite as big or scary or shocking as it used to be.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that (after 60 years of living and 33 years in the news business), I'm one of those relics who walked many miles to school, in bare feet, uphill, sometimes on hot coals - and liked it!
When I started at the Tigard Times in the summer of 1974, I used a 500-pound contraption called a 'typewriter,' into which we jammed pieces of paper and pounded out story after story from morning to night, never misspelling words and never making mistakes of any kind. When I ran out the door to photograph a fire or a parade, I used a square camera that you looked down into from above - with the viewer showing everything upside down and backward, meaning you almost never got a decent picture. I liked that, too!
But the biggest difference in community journalism between then and now is the 'nature' of the news.
You might think the news, as reported in papers today, is bad, but you would be wrong. It's only partly bad. There was a time when it was all bad.
Let me give you an example. In December of 1979, when I was the young editor of the Woodburn Independent, a co-worker of mine, who had recently come from Gold Beach, received in the mail a copy of the Curry Coastal Pilot. This paper will always be embedded in my memory as the worst collection of totally depressing stories I've ever seen.
The lead story that week (the Dec. 13 issue) was headlined 'Community's Tree Felled by Vandals.' It began: 'Brookings-Harbor citizens expressed disgust, sorrow and outrage as they learned that the community Christmas tree was chopped down by vandals around midnight Friday, Dec. 7.'
Also on the front page that week was a story headed 'Harbor Man Threatens Officer With Shotgun.' This concerned a 71-year-old man who 'was scheduled for a mental hearing Wednesday after he shot a large hole in his mobile home and threatened officers with a gun and large mallet Friday.'
Right across the same page was a story about a 50-year-old businessman (and local Elks Club exalted ruler) who was sentenced to 20 years for giving cocaine to a minor. He also was charged with first-degree rape and sodomy, according to the story.
Right under the drug-rape-sodomy story was a shorty titled 'Five Youths Jump On Cars,' about five teenagers who were witnessed jumping from hood to hood on 10 cars in a business parking lot.
Below that story was a five-column picture of a Squaw Valley home destroyed by fire. The blaze put a woman in the hospital and burned up two vehicles.
If you're thinking that was about it for that week's helping of bad news, think again.
On the same front page was a story about the city recorder-treasurer being fired, a story headlined 'Young Brookings Woman Dies Following Fall From High Cliff' and a small story in the lower right-hand corner titled 'Fishing Boat Missing from Brookings Port.'
It's tempting to infer that maybe the Brookings-Gold Beach area is just the bad-news capital of the world, but I don't think so. A glance at last week's front page on the same paper's Web site (www.currypilot.com) showed me that the big news was the county receiving $30,000 for a school-based health center, county funding being restored by the governor, steelhead returning to Rowdy Creek and a nice big feature on volunteer Salvation Army bell-ringers.
See, pretty much like the news we report each week.
They don't make bad news like they used to, I'm convinced. I know we don't report it quite the same.
I remember when I was working at the news desk of the Klamath Falls Herald and News back in the mid-1980s and a jet airliner crashed somewhere, killing about half the people on board.
Instead of writing a headline screeching about how many people died that day, I instead said how many people survived the crash. It was still a banner head on page one, but it was something of a turning point for me.
Meanwhile, I think our whole business has tried to adjust the way it looks at the world.
That probably wouldn't have mattered in that really, really bad week back in 1979 in Curry County, but it does here and now.