The Cottage Grove Sentinel is heading into its next transition — but this time, it is to place a familiar hand at the editorial helm. After two and a half years as lead reporter, Damien Sherwood assumes the title of editor on June 1.
“I am excited for Damien to lead the Cottage Grove Sentinel editorial team and oversee the operations of our newsroom,” said Publisher Gary Manly. “Damien has a passion for the news that matters to our community and that is evident in his work. I am thrilled to have an editor with the integrity, reputation, expertise, drive and vision of Damien to lead The Sentinel forward as we continue to grow and expand.”
Sherwood, who has bachelor’s degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Oregon, came to The Sentinel after teaching English abroad for 10 years and a one-year internship at The Sentinel’s sister newspaper in Florence, the Siuslaw News.
“It turned out journalism is what I really wanted to do,” he said.
Sherwood’s title change comes as Ned Hickson, The Sentinel’s managing editor for the past three years, retires from 23 years in journalism.
“Damien has been an integral part of shifting the paper back towards something that we feel is more tuned into the community,” Hickson said. “He’s one of those people that really believes in different perspectives and how important that is for people to share them. He sees the newspaper in the same way that I do, which is as a forum for people to share ideas and perspectives.”
A Teaching Role
“I always liked creative writing,” Sherwood said. “I was in advanced English classes in high school, and I just wanted to write.”
He began the journalism program at University of Oregon, where he started delving into philosophy and politics. He found inspiration reading about ancient Greece, how democracy started, and the ideas of liberalism and free speech.
“For me, it was really inspiring. I wanted to be a part of this. I decided that journalism had something in it where I could make an impact on the world and continue some of these ideas I thought were really important for society,” he said.
Sherwood completed his dual major in 2005. However, aside from an internship at the Tri-County News in Junction City, he had a hard time finding work in his chosen field. He found work in the food service for a time.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pay off my college debt, and I heard about a teaching opportunity in Korea. So, in 2007, I took off for Korea and spent 10 years there teaching English,” he said.
While there, he gained important teaching skills while in an immersive environment. He also learned how to teach students at differing levels.
“You figure out how to explain complicated things to people so they can actually apply it and use it,” he said.
In 2014, he started dating Subin Lee, a fellow teacher, and they got married in 2016. In 2017, they returned to the U.S., settling in Florence near Sherwood’s family. While there, he connected with a Siuslaw News reporter and met Hickson, who invited him to an internship at the twice-weekly newspaper.
Most importantly for Sherwood, he was writing again — and about important subjects like net neutrality, rent fraud, child abuse prevention, vandalism and more.
“It turned out to be a really good thing that I taught English for 10 years, because it taught me how to essentially fulfill the teacher role for a community,” said Sherwood, who defines a “liberal education” approach as being liberated to think critically about different topics. He added, “We’re not telling people what to think, but suggesting how to think about things. That’s the best way to explain not just the teaching job I had, but also how that translates over to newspaper. And here it becomes even more important.”
While Sherwood interned at the Siuslaw News, Hickson joined The Sentinel as managing editor. Three years ago, the newspaper was facing turbulent waters with an editorial team at odds with the community.
“My role was just to come in, troubleshoot and figure out how can we get things back on track,” Hickson said.
He worked with The Sentinel staff for several months before another transition happened, with then-editor Caitlyn May taking a position with the Corvallis Gazette in January 2019.
“When that position opened up, I immediately thought of Damien,” Hickson said. “He had been interning with us at the Siuslaw News and had done some really great work, so I brought him in as a lead reporter. And I had confidence that it would work well.”
Hickson has remained as managing editor as he guided The Sentinel’s new news team.
“After that, my role was to basically make sure that we continue moving forward. And Damien was an integral part of that,” Hickson said.
Coming to Cottage Grove
As lead reporter at The Sentinel, Sherwood has been covering all aspects of life in Cottage Grove.
“It wasn’t long before I had built some pretty good relationships with the city, nonprofits, businesses and people in the town,” Sherwood said. “A lot of it had to do with just the fact that Cottage Grove is so welcoming. The first thing that happened was City Manager Richard Meyers took me on a ‘Welcome Wagon’ tour of the water treatment plants and just gave me a quick primer on how the city and a lot of its infrastructure operates. And that relationship, that openness has continued throughout.”
For him, it was about making connections in Cottage Grove. This was relatively easy due to something unique about the area itself.
“Cottage Grove, there’s something in the water,” Sherwood said. “When someone puts their shoulder to the wheel, there is a tendency for people to rally. There’s already a deep connection among people in the community to support each other that I can build from.”
He added that in Cottage Grove, “the more you invest, the more return you get.”
As Sherwood got better acquainted with the area and built connections, this proved more and more true. Not only was he once a month appearing on KNND’s “The Beeper Show” with host Cameron Reiten, he and his team were meeting once a month with local school districts and connecting with the fire and police departments. These open lines of communication helped Sherwood feel grounded in the community and invested in its success.
“They’re all willing to work very closely with the paper, which is something I really appreciate about them,” he said. “I had access to all these people constantly. And they were willing to just sit down and have really long, involved conversations about how everything worked. … Of course, it takes a while to learn a whole community, so there’s always more to network and more to learn.”
Sherwood also wanted to restore trust in both journalists and in The Sentinel.
“As opposed to metropolitan newspapers, community newspapers have a deeply intimate role. It’s more than just to build, but to cultivate deep relationships with the community that allow us to be a reliable source for people to lean on,” he said.
One example of cultivating relationships came from a developing story from Cottage Grove High School and a student hazing incident.
“It was a very shocking moment for the community,” Sherwood said. “There were a lot of rumors circulating through not just social media, but other news sources. They didn’t seem to have all the facts. So, when this broke, it was a sloppy job. I had to spend another couple of weeks of chasing down all of the rumors and misinformation.”
One of Hickson’s sayings is, “Never be in a hurry to serve bad food.” As a restaurant chef, he had learned the importance of taking time to make sure quality and presentation were included with every dish he served. He applied the rule often in the newsroom, and Sherwood took it to heart.
He relied on the good relationship between The Sentinel and the school district, established through monthly meetings and past coverage, to identify the correct information.
“The article we wrote basically squashed all of the rumors and got all the truth out there. It presented the story in a way that, even if people weren’t satisfied with what happened to the perpetrators, they at least understood the context for it a little bit better. They knew which information to trust and which not to,” Sherwood said.
Right away, the rumors on social media disappeared.
“The circumstances weren’t great, but I felt really good about our ability to help the community heal from some devastating news through learning about it truthfully,” he said. “I felt really good about being responsible with information.”
A Community Newspaper
Due to Cottage Grove’s housing situation, Sherwood lived out of the area for his first two years at The Sentinel. During the pandemic, he was finally able to move closer to the community.
“In March, I moved into a place just outside of town. I’m right where I need to be, right next to the action,” he said. “That makes a huge difference when it comes to covering anything that pops up that needs my immediate attention. … I’m looking forward to being able to enjoy this community in a more intimate way than I was able to from another city.”
With a couple years as a journalist under his belt, Sherwood now has a new way of defining himself outside of his role at the newspaper.
“I’ve adopted two titles — I want to be a good sense-making apparatus for our community and a good problem-solving tool,” he said. “The sense-making is really important and is a bit philosophical. To me, it has to do with our epistemology, has to do with how we come to knowledge and why we believe what we believe. That all starts with being able to make sense of things, which is to say putting them into a context that is meaningful, where things connect in a logical fashion. And then hopefully, that informs the development good problem-solving skills, where you can apply what you’ve learned to the next problem or puzzle.”
A big part of that is in service to the community, and his new community of Cottage Grove. It’s an important role for The Sentinel.
“A community newspaper is like a diary of a small town,” Sherwood said. “We’re describing both the good and the bad, and being able to see it printed in its rawness, ideally free of political slant, bias, cynicism or snark. A community newspaper is a very unique opportunity to have intimate conversations in public.”
As Hickson nears his last day, he knows the Cottage Grove Sentinel made the right decision in selecting Sherwood as its next editor.
“Damien is dedicated and intuitive. He’s a deep thinker, but he’s also very observant. Those are all really key qualities in a reporter. In the editorial part, being able to work with people with clear communication, setting specific standards that people understand and being able to communicate those standards and really caring about the community. I mean, you have to care about the community you’re writing about and you’re covering, and he really does. And those are all key factors in my decision to offer him that position,” he said.
It is a rite of passage Sherwood feels ready for.
“All the different versions of me that have existed through the years, the one that I like the most is the one that I’m becoming now, which is the person who’s committed to making sense of things and being a good problem solver,” he said.
It is something Sherwood will bring into the coming years as editor of the Cottage Grove Sentinel.
For more information, visit www.cgsentinel.com.
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