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Newspapers help us sort out waves of news.

Byline: Jim Godbold / The Register-Guard

I'M NOT SURE IF the fact that I haven't written a column in a couple of months has had anything to do with the tsunami of news inundating our lives lately.

Perhaps I poked a hole in the news-time continuum, disrupting some crucial equilibrium. You can't rule anything out these days. The new curse of the 21st century is that, as our own headlines have proclaimed, nothing is unthinkable anymore.

A lot can happen in two months, good, bad and ugly.

Did you think two months ago that things could get any worse in the Mideast? That those on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle who yearn for compromise and peace - and we know that such people exist - could seemingly vanish from our consciousness like the Disappeared in Argentina?

Did you think two months ago as people danced in the streets of Kabul that the fiercest fighting and highest U.S. combat casualties of the Afghanistan war were still to come?

Did you even imagine two months ago that the University of Oregon's football team would finish its greatest season ever ranked second in the nation, and that the UO men's basketball team would win the Pac-10 championship outright for the first time since Hitler invaded Poland?

How about the little hospital in Springfield suing the big health care outfit in Eugene? Would you have guessed two months ago that McKenzie-Willamette Hospital would file a federal antitrust suit against PeaceHealth, alleging that its bigger rival was using monopolistic tactics to drive the community hospital in Springfield out of business?

Did you expect any of the amazing occurrences at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City? Highest medal count ever for the United States. Judging controversy in figure skating ends with Canadian and Russian pairs both winning gold medals. The sublime 16-year-old Sarah Hughes. And not one tiny security glitch, hoax, threat, incident. Nothing.

Speaking of unpredictable, that was some windstorm that tore through here on Feb. 7, to the acknowledged surprise of area meteorologists and the teeth-gnashing frustration of powerless customers and exhausted utility line crews.

Did you have a clue in January that a recession that has produced an 8 percent unemployment rate in Oregon - the highest in the nation - would be declared pretty much over in the first week of March?

And despite Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's optimistic take on the "mildness" of the apparently-over recession, did you think two months ago that the Oregon Legislature and governor would be unable to agree after two special sessions on a strategy to balance the state budget, or that the state revenue shortfall during the "mild" recession that produced the imbalanced budget would force education funding cuts that would close elementary schools, eliminate cherished programs, raise tuition at Lane Community College and the University of Oregon and potentially change the landscape of lower and higher education in the state for years to come?

Whatever happened to those cozy, lazy, curl-up-by-the-fire days of winter? Cocooning. Down time. We're packing too much news into too small a time frame. It's exhausting.

Which, to spend a moment evangelizing about my favorite news medium, is why I think we in the newspaper business ought to be using every available opportunity to help the public understand how valuable newspapers can be in helping people sort all this stuff out.

I know, TV is king in America, and most Americans say they get their news from television and not newspapers. But maybe that's mostly because a lot of people don't really understand the fundamental differences between the way TV and newspapers report the news.

Washington Post editors Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert Kaiser speak directly to this issue in the first chapter of their new book "The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril."

Downie and Kaiser eloquently make the case for newspapers, pointing out the connection newspapers try to make between citizens and their public institutions:

"Newspapers' ... public service is to bring a rich, detailed account of yesterday to their readers every day, an account that enables a citizen to remain in touch with numerous aspects of contemporary life in his or her community, country, and world.

"Beyond that, a newspaper keeps watch on the powerful people in its immediate neighborhood, checking constantly for competence, honesty, candor, and all the qualities that citizens hope for in the people who run the institutions they depend on. Communities with good newspapers are actually better places to live because the paper performs these functions."

On March 1, the newspaper you are now reading celebrated 75 years of independent ownership by the Baker family of Eugene. For all of those 75 years, the Bakers have endeavored to publish the kind of newspaper Downie and Kaiser describe, one that strives to make the community a better place.

That's not surprising. After all, this is where the Bakers live.

Jim Godbold is executive editor of The Register-Guard. He can be reached at 338-2413 or by e-mail at jgodbold@guardnet.com.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Mar 10, 2002
Words:836
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