I was pleased to be one of the first to fork out $100 for a year's subscription to the Salem Reporter, a new online news source headed up by Les Zaitz that will start publication in September.
Right after I subscribed, I emailed Zaitz and the three reporters he's hired, telling them how disappointed I've been that the Statesman Journal (Salem's daily newspaper, owned by Gannett) hasn't run stories that challenge the Powers That Be in this town.
Larry Tokarski, founder of Salem Reporter, invited veterans to the front of Thursday's session to lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Response to the news of the launch of Salem Reporter has been so heartening to our team. We have had encouragement from all quarters. We have had people sign up for our free newsletter. We have had people subscribe. The first subscription - from Pat McCormick - came in just 18 minutes after our site went live.
On Thursday, we hosted a morning function for local business leaders to explain what is the Salem Reporter and how they could help give Salem news it's been missing. In the crowd was "Mr. Oregon," Gerry Frank. We had Salem stalwarts such as Dick Withnell, Richard Kreitzberg and Bob Cannon. We had a great contingent from the Salem Chamber of Commerce, led by Nick Williams. We also had long-time friends such as Ron Anderson and Ray and Keeta Lauderdale.
At the very least, this is bad optics.
Many of my fellow liberals are worried that since funding for Salem Reporter has come from Larry Tokarski, a businessman who is a big supporter of conservative causes in Salem, this online newspaper won't be free to report on issues that put Tokarski or the Chamber of Commerce in a bad light.
So it was a curious, but perhaps telling, decision to have the very first Salem Reporter meeting feature (1) Tokarski, and (2) local business and Chamber of Commerce leaders.
If the Salem Reporter had wanted to set off alarm bells in the minds of progressives, it's difficult to think of a better way to do this.
Now, I readily admit that this initial meeting doesn't mean the Salem Reporter is going to go soft on the business community in Salem or the Chamber of Commerce. However, I found it somewhat worrisome that the business people were asked "to help give Salem news it's been missing."
Personally, what I feel Salem has been missing the most is aggressive investigative journalism. The Salem Business Journal and Statesman Journal have plenty of business-friendly stories. Salem Weekly does some good reporting, but lacks the resources to dig deep into issues.
Thus I've been hoping, and continue to hope, that the Salem Reporter will fearlessly go where the Statesman Journal fears to tread. For example, there's good reason to consider that urban renewal funds have been used by the City of Salem to further "crony capitalism," something I've written extensively about in regard to the Park Front Building.
To it's credit, the Salem Business Journal published an opinion piece that I wrote on this subject. But the Statesman Journal, nada.
Anyway, I'm still optimistic about the Salem Reporter.
I just wish Zaitz and company had chosen to start off with an open house of some sort aimed at the general population of concerned citizens, rather than begin with a get-together of business leaders. There are two additional Salem Reporter meetings planned, but both also are invitation-only.
For those in government......
We have two more functions scheduled to help introduce people to the Salem Reporter. Next week, we host public officials, elected officials, those who work in government, and volunteers who serve on so many boards and commissions. The hour-long event will be at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, in the Board Room at the Salem Convention Center. If you serve in such a capacity and haven't received your invitation yet, no matter! Join us. Just shoot a note to [email protected] to let us know you're coming so we can put on enough coffee.
For those in the nonprofit world.........
The week after that, we're planning a function with the executive leadership and volunteer board members for Salem-area nonprofits. The hour-long event will be at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, at the Salem Convention Center. If you serve in such a capacity and want to attend to learn how to work with Salem Reporter to cover the important work of these organizations, drop an email to [email protected].