Today Dick Hughes, the editorial page editor of Salem's daily newspaper, used half a page in the Statesman Journal for his "My Top 10 list for helping, improving the community."
Here's a suggestion that you missed, Dick: Start close to home. Improve the increasingly worthless Gannett Corporation paper that you work for.
I've been, and will continue to be, a relentless critic of the Statesman Journal -- a paper that I've subscribed to and read every day of the 38 years I've lived in the Salem area.
It's gone so far downhill, I'm not sure if there's much journalistic ground remaining for it to slide past. The titles of some of my critical blog posts tell the sorry tale.
"Maybe it's time for the Statesman Journal to die"
"The Statesman Journal newspaper is failing Salem"
"The Statesman Journal is trying to trick Salem"
"Layoffs at Statesman Journal tied to worrisome Gannett 'newsroom of the future'"
"Salem Statesman Journal hit with journalistic ethics complaints"
"Salem Statesman Journal daily circulation in steep decline"
"Statesman Journal vs. Willamette Week -- investigative journalism pissing contest"
"Statesman Journal staff are wrong: readers ARE interested in ethics complaints"
After reading Hughes' piece, I've got three main gripes about what he wrote, and his newspaper as a whole.
(1) The Statesman Journal hasn't been adequately covering the issues he feels so strongly about.
Among other things Hughes says we've got to do something about, he mentions homelessness, downtown Salem, a new police facility, and the proposed third bridge across the Willamette.
So where are the in-depth Statesman Journal stories on these subjects?
Where is the investigative journalism about the wasteful, incoherent, closed-door planning on both the police facility and third bridge? Where is the digging into how City of Salem officials have harmed efforts to improve downtown by trashing a duly-selected downtown organization and causing the demise of the Economic Improvement District? Where are interviews with community leaders trying to deal with homelessness about how pitiful the Mayor's and City Council's response has been in this area?
Nowhere. They don't exist. Here's one reason why...
(2) The Statesman Journal won't seriously challenge the Salem Chamber of Commerce and City officials who were elected with the backing of the Chamber.
Tough questions aren't asked by the Statesman Journal because the answers often won't put the Powers That Be in Salem in a good light. Facts aren't reported because those facts would point out how positions taken by the Chamber of Commerce, Mayor, and her right-wing City Council majority (bought and paid for by the Chamber) lack a substantive foundation.
So we get mindless reporting and editorializing in the Statesman Journal. Thoughtful writing doesn't mesh with the poorly thought-out wish lists of special interests in this town -- which focus, as they do nationally, on feathering the nests of the rich and powerful rather than furthering the interests of the general public.
Thus somehow Hughes was able to say that Salem needs to become more attractive to the millennial generation, who favor living in "cool" environmentally-friendly, dense, central, mixed-use areas where cars aren't necessary, and simultaneously call for the building of an unwanted, unneeded, and unpaid-for third bridge that will promote sprawl, auto-centrism, and increased ecological harm.
Salem needs a coherent vision for becoming more livable and vibrant into the rest of the 21st century.
This won't happen until those who already have money and power stop controlling the agenda in this town. Since the Statesman Journal can't survive without their advertising dollars, the newspaper is failing Salem by sucking up to the Power Structure instead of The People.
(3) Shallow cute journalism isn't serving Salem well
Look, I understand the pressures on print newspapers. Some cost-cutting is necessary. But if the Statesman Journal throws away its journalistic soul in order to keep its barely-beating body alive, is that worth it?
When I walk to our paper box, browsing through the paper as I return to our house, most days I find very little substance in the Statesman Journal. When an investigative piece about an Oregon issue catches my eye, usually I see that it was first published by another newspaper in this state.
I'm not content with reading what sort of superhero kids want to be; what a bunch of people said to the executive editor at a Court Street diner; how the Rapid Response readers feel about this or that; what Salem was like 50 years ago; inserts from USA Today; and all the other stuff in the Statesman Journal that has little or nothing to do with Salem's pressing problems and future evolution.
Yeah, I'm a traditionalist when it comes to newspapers.
I still believe they mostly should have news in them. If I want cuteness I can turn to my Facebook feed and watch kitten videos. If I want uninformed opinion I can watch Fox News.
So look in the mirror, Statesman Journal editors and executives, next time you think about reporting or editorializing about what needs to improve in Salem.
Your newspaper is near the top of my list.