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Kitzhaber's move from beleagured to bygone is his fault

He blamed the media for his downfall but has only himself to blame

In his final public statement as Oregon governor, John Kitzhaber evaded personal responsibility for the ordeal that he put his state through, resorting instead to a worn-out excuse of too many fallen politicians: It was the media’s fault.

Saying he was unfairly “charged, tried, convicted and sentenced” by the media, Kitzhaber also lamented how quickly he was abandoned by fellow Democrats who were “willing to simply accept this judgment at its face value.”

As for why his allies deserted him, Kitzhaber might consider how eager he was to challenge a sitting governor of his own party, in the case of Barbara Roberts in 1994, and how his unprecedented four campaigns for governor might have stifled the ambitions of qualified people in line behind him. Whatever love was won or lost among the Democratic elite is up to them to sort out, but the ex-governor’s attack on the media is worth answering with a question: How many times have we heard that line before?

Too many to enumerate here. And as these past experiences have shown, even those who remain loyal to Kitzhaber today will eventually realize the press is fulfilling its proper role when it exposes uncomfortable facts about people in power. During past months of media investigation, Kitzhaber refuted no facts — he just obfuscated or avoided them.

The facts come out through diligent investigative work

One of the facts that pushed Kitzhaber from beleaguered to bygone was uncovered by our Capital Bureau, which is a collaboration between the Pamplin Media Group and the EO Media Group. Reporter Hillary Borrud’s story about Kitzhaber’s fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, being paid $118,000 for undefined work she did for a nonprofit green-energy group, was a final blow that collapsed Kitzhaber’s stronghold.

Subsequent reports from Willamette Week and The Oregonian elaborated on those payments, and the media storm overtook the governor’s attempts to outrun the scandal.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that the Pamplin/EO Media groups’ reporting was the basis for the governor’s resignation. The work of Borrud and fellow Capital Bureau reporter Peter Wong was built on a foundation already firmly laid by reporter Nigel Jaquiss of Willamette Week and expanded by reporters Nick Budnick (a Portland Tribune alumnus) and Laura Gunderson of The Oregonian.

These reporters work for newspapers that are intensely competitive with — you might even say antagonistic toward — one another. Such competition fosters better reporting, but good journalists, for all their crankiness, also share important values. They are relentless in pursuit of the truth.

That’s why having a healthy journalistic ecosystem is essential to a functioning democracy. One insightful story leads to another, and the press is capable of fulfilling its Fourth Estate duty. It’s also why the Pamplin Media Group and the EO Media Group decided to enter into a partnership to launch the Capital Bureau.

Our two companies have very different ownerships and serve distinct Oregon communities with a total of 35 newspapers. These companies are made up, primarily, of community newspapers. We devote the resources necessary to cover community news in depth: city councils, school boards, good deeds and bad deeds, local businesses, youth sports and academic all stars.

Our community-minded niche means our newspapers have a durable future. We’ll be here for the long haul, because no one else does exactly what we do in each of our communities. By partnering on the Capital Bureau, these two media companies also are filling a void in state government news that’s been left as other news organizations have pulled back.

Changing models for gathering news

Even in community journalism, the world is transforming. Partnerships are one creative way to foster the best in journalism. The Pamplin Media Group and EO Media Group also being innovative by starting a Capital Insider newsletter, which will be a subscription-based, electronic publication sent to people who have a particular interest in news of state government and politics.

By subscribing to this newsletter, readers help support the fine work being done by Hillary Borrud and Peter Wong. Subscribers also will get an insider’s knowledge of state government before it becomes news everywhere else. (The newsletter launched Feb. 20, and people may get more information at oregoncapitalinsider.com.)

Great journalism requires a sound business model. Our readers occasionally grumble about what they consider to be overly aggressive reporting, but what we hear more often is their anxiety about the future of democracy as news organizations cope with the blistering pace of technological change.

However, locally owned community newspapers have a special role, and they’ll be here to inform their readers for years to come. That’s why we see it as our responsibility to fill the coverage gaps. Excellent journalism promotes a healthy democracy — and we are committed to that ideal even when it takes us to uncomfortable places.

Mark Garber is president and publisher for the Pamplin Media Group's newspaper division.

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