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In our view: Engels story strikes a nerve in the community


Newspaper responds to claims about its coverage of the sale of the Dundee home

Journalism is an often misunderstood industry, especially in these days when anyone with a blog can be considered by some to be journalists.

This fact was no more evident then recently when we ran a front page story on the sale of the Engels house in Dundee.

The story elicited fervent response on Facebook, with dozens of missives being posted on the day the story was published.

We understand the passion behind the posts. The 2012 murders of Amy, Jackson and Bailey Engels at the hands of Randall Engels were heartbreaking, to be sure. But, it was also news that was our responsibility, as the newspaper of record for these parts, to cover.Aug. 21 editorial

When word came last week that the site of one of the most infamous crimes in Yamhill County history would be sold in September, we never questioned that it was also news.

Then we dug deeper to discover that neither the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office, the agency responsible for auctioning off the home after it was foreclosed upon, nor realtors and mortgage companies, who may in the future be called upon to sell the house, are required to reveal the history of the home, our conviction that a story was warranted were reinforced: this is news and the public has a right to know.

And despite the many Facebook posts, our Web readers seem to share that belief. As of Thursday morning there were just shy of 3,000 page views of the story and 1,200 people clicked on it to read more. The next most read story on the website? A piece on George Fox football garnered 470 page views.

But comments on Facebook indicated some people were upset. Many of the claims, although heartfelt and sincere, were also off the mark and we thought we would respond to some of them in order to explain our position.

Claim No. 1: The Graphic published the story to sell papers.

Newspapers make money off one thing — advertising. The money garnered from subscriptions and rack sales barely pays for the distribution of the paper.

Claim No. 2: Why did the Graphic do a story on this real estate sale when it doesn’t cover others?

To be clear, this wasn’t a story about a real estate transaction, this was a story about the aftermath of tragedy in a small town.

Claim No. 3: The Graphic published the story to bring awareness to domestic violence.

Even though Amy Engels was the victim of domestic violence, the story was not intended to open a dialogue on that or any other issue, but just to inform.

Claim No. 4: The Graphic published the story to draw attention to itself and get people talking about the newspaper.

Of course, every newspaper wants to be read, but we don’t target stories with the idea that it will garner attention. We tell stories and let the readers decide whether they are newsworthy.

Claim No. 5: The story lacked in good taste and was insensitive to those involved.

Guilty as charged. In order for journalists to do their job properly they must, to some extent, set aside their humanity. The alternative is we only report stories that are happy and positive, which would amount to a dereliction of duty on our parts. News, oftentimes, isn’t pretty.

Claim No. 6: Why doesn’t the Graphic report on people doing good things in the community instead of something so negative?

This claim is particularly galling and shows an ignorance of our newspaper that is difficult to stomach. There are multiple positive stories in the Graphic every week, including on the same front page that included the Engels story. We regularly publish positive stories about the schools, sports, service organizations, ministries, etc.

Claim No. 7: Newberg and Dundee are small towns, the Graphic has to cover something.

We are a three-person news staff, keeping busy is not an issue.

Claim No. 8: This is a 1st Amendment issue. The Graphic is exercising its freedom of speech muscles.

While we enjoy the freedoms the 1st Amendment provides, we were in no way trying to push the issue of free speech.

Claim No. 9: The Graphic published the story in order to champion the idea of a group buying the house and then tearing it down.

Not a bad idea, but not one we are advocating.

Claim No. 10: Why is it trying to help sell the Engels house?

Again, this wasn’t a story about a real estate transaction. We have no interest in whether this house sells or not.

There’s no question we struck a nerve with this story. As often mentioned in the Facebook posts, the murder-suicide of the Engels family is an old wound and we understand that this story did little to promote healing. That’s unfortunate, but the alternative is much worse: only report stories that people can feel good about. If that’s what readers want, they will continue to be frustrated with the coverage in the Newberg Graphic.