Thursday, April 28, 2016

Instead of giving attention to wildlife-refuge occupiers, Oregon weekly focused on community

White spoke at a panel discussion about covering the takeover.

When journalists from around the world descended on Harney County, Oregon, to cover the militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the local paper, the Burns Times-Herald, a 3,000-circulation weekly, was not on the scene. That's because leaders at the paper thought the focus shouldn't be on Ammon Bundy and other occupiers, but on the community, Samantha Swindler reports for The Oregonian.

Reporter Samantha White, a fourth-generation resident of Burns, population 2,000, told Swindler, "We knew we did not want to go out there and give this guy any more attention or leverage. We were absolutely not going to give him a platform." During the refuge occupation, journalists "from as far away as Russia and Istanbul called the Times-Herald asking for comment," Swindler writes. "The staff always declined." White told her, "We didn't want to be the voice of the community." Instead, "the paper's coverage of the occupation focused on local voices and reaction. They gave little space to Bundy's views, but offered unlimited newsprint to locals who wanted to sound off. It wasn't unusual in those weeks to see a letter to the editor take up an entire page of the newspaper."

"It wasn't necessarily Bundy's opinions about the Bureau of Land Management that divided the town, Samantha said," Swindler writes. "It was his vaguely threatening attitude, and his attempt to speak for the community about the community's own problems." She told Swindler, "People didn't like the idea of someone else speaking for them. Sometimes when we say local control (over federal lands), we're just saying that we want more say in the process. We just want to have a voice."

In a column on Jan. 6, at the beginning of the occupation, White wrote, "As a local reporter, you’d think I’d be chomping at the bit to cover the story that’s been making headlines across the nation. You’d think I’d be pointing my camera and tape recorder in the face of every man, woman, and child in Harney County in order to get 'the scoop.' You’d think I’d be thrilled to watch a sensational scene unfold in my own backyard. But that’s simply not the case. I know that big, dramatic events sell newspapers. I’ve seen sensational journalism advance reporters’ careers."

"I know I could exploit this situation for my own personal gain," she wrote. "But that’s not why I got into the business. I decided to study journalism because I like to help people tell their stories. After earning my degree. I decided to return home to Harney County because I wanted to provide this service for the village that raised me. I consider it an honor and a privilege to bring Harney County its news because I genuinely love this land and the people who live in it."

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