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March focuses on Fourth Estate

A Southern Oregon University professor told several hundred anti-Trump demonstrators Tuesday that the president's attacks on the media have sparked a renewed interest in journalism.

Erik Palmer, assistant professor of convergent media, said that in the later years of the Obama administration, meeting minimum enrollment in his journalism classes at SOU had been a challenge. Since the election, however, his online journalism class and his media law and ethics class are both filled, Palmer said.

"It's tremendous news for us as an institution, and I think for us as a community that we have this interest in our students," Palmer said. "We're in kind of a hard spot in the national situation right now, and yet our national news media are beginning to rise to the challenge."

Palmer was among three people who spoke about the importance of America's Fourth Estate as protesters from Oregon District 2 Indivisible gathered on the Jackson County Courthouse steps to respond to Trump's tweet calling news outlets the "enemy of the American people." 

"Immense Possibilities" (corrected from previous version) host and former county commissioner Jeff Golden said the president is using the practice of "repetitious labeling" against the media.

"We never hear the White House say just 'the media,' it is only the 'dishonest media,' " Golden said. "We are being worked every single day to scorn and reject the press."

Former newspaper reporter and professor Lois Breedlove encouraged the crowd to take a more participatory role in civil discourse, such as subscribing to a newspaper and writing letters to the editor. Palmer said the Southern Oregon community has a "very robust" amount of news outlets and institutions with which to get involved. 

"Get published, it's not all that difficult," Breedlove said. "If each one of you wrote a letter a month, it'd be an amazing thing."

As part of the demonstration, marchers surrounded the Mail Tribune office Tuesday in support of freedom of the press.

En route along Main Street, the demonstrators chanted, "We are watching, we will not be silenced," at roughly a dozen counter-protesters and Trump supporters who waved flags at Vogel Plaza. 

Holding a sign that said, "Honk for America," Leesa Henselman said there was no formal organization behind their counter demonstration. Henselman said she and friends had gathered on Mondays before, but now plan to demonstrate on the first Tuesday of the month. Henselman said she wasn't necessarily standing for a specific Trump policy, as much as she was trying to show support for the president and heal the divide.

"We've gotta heal and unify," Henselman said. 

Carrying a flag while standing next to Henselman on the west side of Central Avenue, veteran Richard Schwegerl expressed frustration at the Indivisible demonstrators resisting the president's actions. Schwegerl said he didn't remember weekly protests in the streets when Obama won his elections.

"We're supposed to have a peaceful transition of power," Schwegerl said, later adding, "It's very clear that the godly people spoke up this election."

Henselman wasn't expecting others to join her Tuesday, calling the dozen veterans who gathered with "United We Stand, Divided We Fall" signs and at least seven American flags a "blessing."

Veteran Mike Whitfield said he believes the country needs to come together in order to thrive.

"As an American, I don't want this country to fall," Whitfield said.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Jessica Sage, second from right, speaks to Indivisible protesters outside the Mail Tribune Tuesday who gathered in support of a free press. [Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta]
A dozen Trump supporters gathered at Vogel Plaza Tuesday while several hundred demonstrators from Indivisible continued their weekly demonstrations nearby. [Mail Tribune / Nick Morgan]