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Judge newspaper on our work, not interpretation of changes

If I thought the Mail Tribune’s owner was determined to turn the newspaper into a right-wing publication, I would join the more than 750 of you in signing the online change.org petition to save it from that fate.

Assumptions were made and a narrative is being propelled based on those. But it is not as grim as some would fear, and I would like to clear up a few misconceptions and rushes to judgment about our announced changes who we are and what we represent.

What sets the Mail Tribune apart is its reporting staff, who have a combined 100-plus years of experience covering Jackson County and the surrounding area. Vickie Aldous’ Wednesday article detailing the struggles of people who lost affordable housing in the Almeda fire, and Damian Mann’s piece today on how city government and local organizations helped keep a business afloat that might not have survived the pandemic restrictions are two recent examples of what makes our reporting worth your subscription.

I can’t say enough of how proud I am of the Mail Tribune staff who have dealt with all the issues of the past year — between COVID-19 lockdowns and losing their homes to fire — but haven’t missed a beat when it comes to bringing our subscribers the news every morning.

In our 2021 reality, many people believe we should be part of the 24/7 news cycle, but that is the type of news that has clouded our view of what is biased and unbiased.

Every major broadcast news network, Fox News and MSNBC will give you the slant you prefer, and if you are used to your echo chamber, anything else is clearly biased.

The Mail Tribune chooses to not go down that path. Publisher Steven Saslow and I agree that the news section is the last guardian at the gate, more than ever, and we risk our credibility when we try to be activists, appeal to activists, or try to slant news reporting in any manner.

Without our wire services, we wouldn’t be able to publish national and world news. What we have stopped publishing on news pages is any sort of commentary or analysis articles. We don’t want to blur the lines between fact-based reporting and the opinion pages. We will continue to run feature stories such as food and entertainment articles from The Washington Post, and we are not dropping Post editorials or columnists from the opinion pages. We also will continue to run opinions from other sources.

Over the past few years our editorial board has been a three-person body, and Steven wants to be a more active participant. Still, the editorial opinions will not be his alone, but will be a consensus of the board.

The editorial board has tried in the past years to expand its numbers to include people from outside the organization. We tried a readers’ editorial advisory board, but that didn’t last when we found it hard to get volunteers to consistently attend meetings or write on a regular basis.

We will continue to publish every letter to the editor we receive that fits our guidelines either online or in print, but we want the printed paper to have a community feel to it. We’ll still print letters reflecting local people and issues. So look for your letters on Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Cliff Bentz in our paper and letters on national figures like senators Chuck Schumer and Ted Cruz on our website.

Either side of the political aisle can turn the letters to the editor section into what they want to see. We don’t want that, but the trick is both sides have to write.

Speaking of the website, we have been working since September to shift our website hosting to a service that provides a better user experience. We hope to debut it this week and end the frustrations that have plagued our readers when trying to read an article or start a subscription.

I appreciate those of you who signed the petition, we do hear you and the others who wrote letters to the editor about your concern over changes.

Your passion for news and our organization is needed and is welcomed. We need you to hold us accountable when we get something wrong, and without community support, local journalism will be a thing of the past.

All I ask is that you judge us on our work.

Justin Umberson is the editor in chief of the Mail Tribune and Ashland Tidings.

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