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People, ideas matter most

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(Editor's note: Steve Clark retired as president of Community Newspapers, which publishes the Lake Oswego Review among other papers, left this past week to become vice president for university relations and marketing at Oregon State University. Here are some reflections on his 36 years in the newspaper business.)

I have been doing this for a long time: Marketing, communications and community journalism. I began practicing the craft in my junior year at Central Catholic High School in Southeast Portland. When I graduated from Oregon State University in 1975, I made it my career.

Along the way, I also made a priority of community involvement and civic and business engagement in local, regional and statewide issues and efforts.

As I leave Community Newspapers for a new career at Oregon State, I would like to share a few things that I have learned during these 3-1/2 decades. These are matters that I feel have taken on even greater importance because our economy, personal futures and social and environmental stability remain so uncertain.

People really do matter

In a place like Oregon, and communities in the Portland area, we have a propensity to get way too bogged down in discussions and arguments about causes, politics or social issues and values - and in debates about who is right or wrong. When we do this, we often lose sight of what and who really matters - people: Young, old, healthy or infirm; poor and rich; people of all colors and ethnic backgrounds. When we do get off-track, we don't focus our attention, as we should, on outcomes that benefit real people in their communities.

Communities matter

It's not just the three counties or the more than two dozen incorporated cities that exist within the Portland region's urban growth boundary that matter, but also the vibrant neighborhoods within these cities and counties. Yes, we are living in the age of the Worldwide Web and instant communication that links people by mobile device, computer or old-fashioned telephones. And yes, someone in Southeast Portland, Clackamas, Lake Oswego or Forest Grove can work remotely in places such as San Jose, Calif., Chile or China, yet sleep right here in Oregon.

But still, communities matter. They define who we are and provide each of us a personal opportunity - a responsibility - to create something meaningful for ourselves, our families and for others close at hand.

At Community Newspapers, several of our 17 papers have reported on, photographed and editorialized about these local people and communities for more than 100 years. The Review is in its 98th year. We've made 'local' people and 'local'communities our highest priority. Perhaps it's a form of flattery that our fiercely local business model is now being adopted by other media companies throughout the Portland area.

In our case, we have sought not only to be the best and most trusted local newspapers, we also have worked overtime to be an engaged and invested community leader to help create better communities, schools, libraries, roads and transit, and an improved economy and environment.

We have done so with confidence, believing that even journalists can be engaged Oregonians, as long as we do our professional jobs well and we conduct our public and civic involvement in transparent and accountable ways.

Looking forward, I encourage far more business people and everyday Oregonians to get involved and help lead and invest in their communities. Not enough do this. That's a shame, because without broad civic engagement, the future will be shaped by a few voices and the causes represented by motivated special interest groups.

To move things forward, I encourage residents and businesses of the communities that we serve to identify and engage in solutions that provide measurable outcomes to benefit people, communities and the entire state. We can work together on issues such as the economy, schools, public safety, the environment and public health.

To achieve these outcomes, do not simply debate values or opinions - but engage others in partnerships to inform the public and discuss and evaluate investments that will make a real difference. This requires us to treat others civilly and act effectively without waiting for someone else to do the heavy lifting.

Along the way, read your print or online newspapers. While it is people and communities that matter most, don't forget it is great storytellers, such as those at Community Newspapers, who help weave people and communities together.

Steve Clark is the former president of Community Newspapers and is a former publisher of the Lake Oswego Review.