Arran Robertson: I Support...

Street Roots & Willamette Week Fund for Investigative Journalism

The hard working staff at Oregon Wild are dedicated to defending Oregon’s wild lands, wildlife, and waters. But there is more to us than our efforts to protect old growth forests, recover gray wolves, or reform Oregon’s lax clearcutting laws. We are also part of our broader communities. At a time when reaching out to our neighbors and working together across causes is more important than ever, we wanted to take the opportunity to spotlight some of the work done by other organizations. Our staff has selected causes that are important to them, and explained why they think these efforts are worthy of your support.

A free press is absolutely essential to a functioning republic. Unfortunately, our precious fourth estate has struggled to find its way in the new digital world. This is not some new problem, but one that has been building for some time now, and one that has concerned me as a communications professional. I have despaired to see stories that I know to be vitally important go unreported. This is not because Oregon is without dedicated and principled journalists, but it just doesn’t have enough (though I could certainly name some outlets that could use more journalists AND principles). There are too many stories to tell for the current newsroom budgets, and too many incentives to chain journalists to their desks pumping out listicles and trending internet stories that get clicks but have no greater value of serving an informed citizenry.

Unfortunately, 2016 has escalated this problem to what is, in my view, a threat to the very foundations of our society. Increasingly, shrill cries of “media bias” have been successfully used to counter basic, reality-based reporting. In this new post-truth world, feelings matter more than facts, and reporting on the latter will earn hard working journalists death threats. 

Add to that the proliferation of “fake news” reaching new heights this year. Buzzfeed published a study recently that showed that more people saw and shared “fake news” articles on social networks in the lead up to the election than real ones. One author bragged that he made $10,000 a month writing outlandish and absolutely untrue stories to be shared online, a salary over twice what an average real reporter makes. 

This also comes at a time when the Obama Administration, which has an earned reputation of being particularly cagey with the press, is about to be replaced by a president-elect that is not only openly hostile to the press, but has gleefully entertained revoking basic First Amendment protections.

We need good reporting, now more than ever. The most direct way to support good reporting is to get a subscription to your local newspaper, or support outlets like OPB through regular donations. But the giving spirit of the holiday and the Give Guide offer some additions and alternatives. 

I am supporting two local sources for quality journalism. The first is Street Roots, which is an excellent source of thoughtful, on-the-ground reporting on issues often overlooked by other outlets. It also offers opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and poverty. The second is the Willamette Week Fund for Investigative Journalism, providing resources for Willamette Week's well respected (and feared) newsroom. 

The Internet and digital communications will continue to offer new opportunities and challenges. Sorting reality from the rubbish, and placing a greater value on facts-based journalism, is one of the priorities I hope we take up in the coming year. 

Here’s to a less post-truth 2017!