Setting the record straight with The Chronicle

I felt the need to respond and clarify some pretty egregious inaccuracies.

Two years ago, The Sentinel joined forces with three other, smaller community newspapers in an effort to pool resources in covering the rising issue of death by suicide in Oregon in a special month-long series. Among those newspapers, which included Siuslaw News in Florence and Newport News-Times in Newport, was The Creswell Chronicle. Its talented editor, Erin Tierney, and I agreed that by sharing our reporting with one another on this topic, we could do more together in addressing the crisis of suicide than we could every do individually as small papers with limited staff and resources.

That four-newspaper collaboration was completely unique and something I remain proud of as an example of how community journalism is different from corporate or “mainstream” journalism, which is often dollar-driven and places “being first” over the importance of being accurate and providing context.

Not long after that, I had the opportunity to meet The Chronicle’s publisher Noel Nash — a true news and media person with an obvious commitment to community journalism that I knew Creswell residents would benefit from.

So, it was with no small amount of surprise and, to be honest, more than a little disappointment when I read his latest editorial in The Chronicle (“Big Business and Your Small Town Paper,” May 7), in which he attempted to lump The Sentinel in with giant corporately owned newspapers like the GateHouse/Gannett-owned Register-Guard.

After reading his editorial, I felt the need to respond, primarily to clarify some pretty egregious inaccuracies that, coming from a journalist, I found a bit surprising. First, we are not owned by “Media General Corp.” A quick reference shows that Media General Inc. (which is the closest I could come to the company that was referenced in The Chronicle editorial) was dissolved in 2017 and purchased by Nexstar that same year for $4.6 billion.

That’s not us.

Our parent company, News Media Corporation, is family owned and has been since it was established by John C. Tompkins in 1975. It does own 65 newspapers in 8 states (compared to GateHouse/Gannett, with more than 250 papers in 46 states). In addition, papers owned by the Tompkins family are all smaller, community driven publications serving populations averaging 8,000 — with 5,000 being the smallest and 50,000 being the largest.

In Mr. Nash’s editorial, he also attempted to draw a correlation between the kind of “generic, faceless bylines … from some other place” that have become standard operating procedure for the R-G, and the weekly reporting done by Damien Sherwood, Nick Snyder and myself at The Sentinel. To be frank, I took the most offense at that comparison, and his implication that we are merely “The Cottage Grove edition of Media General.”

Unlike Mr. Nash, both Damien and Nick are native-born Oregonians who grew up in Lane County; my family moved to Florence in 1981. Everyone who works at The Sentinel, from our general manager Gary Manly, to our office manager Meg Fringer and sales staff Carla Skeel, Gerald Santana and graphics designer Ron Annis, all live in the Cottage Grove area. I challenge Mr. Nash to find any story in The Sentinel that isn’t, as he puts it, “a hyper-local vision,” which is (ironically) corporate marketing-speak for what is essentially community-based reporting.

That being said, it seems a bit hypocritical trying to paint The Sentinel as being a purely money-driven news source occupied by faceless out-of-staters. While we are part of a family-owned parent company, the people writing the stories, attending city council and school board meetings, covering fundraisers and community benefits, reporting on local athletes and students — they don’t teleport here from somewhere else. They live and work here in the valley.

And the press releases and updates you see in The Sentinel? They’re sent in from folks in Cottage Grove and Creswell, as well as Elkton, Yoncalla, Lorane, Dorena, Drain and other communities not regularly covered by The Chronicle. For our readers, providing a resource — especially at this moment — for people to connect and be informed about ways they can help each other in the communities we serve is just as important as the reporting we do each week.

Lastly, Mr. Nash pointed out that we have reached out to the community for financial support through an opportunity for readers to provide a tax-deductible donation. What he didn’t mention was that the program is not sponsored by or connected to News Media Corporation (or even Media General Corp.) and was established to help community newspapers across the country like The Sentinel to maintain staffing and assure local reporting continues in small communities like ours.

We may have a parent company, but we are still responsible for covering our expenses in a time when we are facing challenges never seen in the 131-year history of The Sentinel. Just as we are invested in the communities we serve, those who value having a community newspaper have an opportunity to invest in us as well. 

The one thing Mr. Nash and I do agree on is the need for local, trusted journalism. As he said in his editorial, “A rising tide lifts all boats, right?”

If that’s the case — and I believe it is — then we would do better to remember how we once were an example of what makes community journalism different, instead of perpetuating a stereotype that we are all the same.