Gerry O'Brien mug; black and white

America has always been a beacon for a free press, award-winning National Public Radio journalist Lulu Garcia-Navarro said in Bend last week. A free press is enshrined in the Constitution. What could be more American than that?

“Do you know what a powerful symbol that is in places (around the globe) where the press gets told what to report, and if they deviate from that, they are fired or worse?” she asked.

A seasoned foreign correspondent, Garcia-Navarro spoke of her experiences covering several wars, natural disasters and politics to a standing-room-only crowd at the Tower Theatre. It was sponsored by the Nancy R. Chandler visiting scholar program of the Central Oregon Community College Foundation and the Robert W. Chandler lecture series.

Her message was clear and it resonated with the audience: Do not sit on the sidelines when it comes to journalism. There is such a flood of information coming at you from media outlets, that people have to be vigilant in deciphering what is being written.

She noted the average American spends 11 hours a day engaged with some sort of social media, up from nine hours a few years ago. That is a lot less talking to each other and more selective listening.

“You can no longer just passively sit back and get your news from your social media feed. At best, it’s going to give you a very narrow view of the world. At worst, you may be part of the problem,” she said.

“I’m guilty of this. I don’t have time to read the whole New York Times or the Weekly Standard. But being an informed citizen means you have to work at it.”

What was so gratifying to us was her support of local journalism. Like many issues facing the world today, solutions start locally.

For The Bulletin — which is retooling after coming out of bankruptcy — local journalism is our bread and butter. Our staff works extremely hard to bring you unbiased reporting, double-checking facts, covering bases from a variety of sources so that it is not one person’s agenda being written about. News releases from government agencies are starting points, but reporters call the agency to double-check facts and get answers to unanswered questions.

Often reporters and papers are labeled with being biased, but some of that comes from a misunderstanding of what our opinion page is for, versus the news pages. Some papers have done away with their edit page because of the confusion. But an editorial page is for opinions and keeps the dialogue going, giving access to some whose voices are not generally heard. It helps spur the public debate and would be sorely missed.

“Consume news from sources you trust,” Garcia-Navarro told the audience. “And that trust shouldn’t be because the news organization tells you things you want to hear. It should be because even if they get it wrong, they are accountable. You know they actually did some fact-checking. They think about why they are publishing something.”

She noted she wants to create a pin that reads, “I am biased...for facts.”

Local newspapers bring a sense of community, and that is true of The Bulletin. Garcia-Navarro noted that studies show areas that are hard hit by natural disasters recover faster if there’s a sense of community in those towns.

“By rallying around facts and those who deal with them, you will work better with each other, you will be a more engaged citizen with a better sense of the range of ideas available to tackle a problem and ultimately you’ll be better able to build a better world.”

We couldn’t agree more. And we would like to unabashedly suggest that if you are not a regular reader or subscriber to this paper, that you become one. The better informed one is, the better they are able to resolve problems and they will create a better life for themselves and others.

“We need you. We need you to pay for your news, and read it and think critically about it. We need you to engage. We’re in this together. We are not the enemy of the people,” Garcia-Navarro said.

We certainly concur.

Gerry O’Brien is editor of The Bulletin. Contact 541-633-2166 or gobrien@bendbulletin.com.

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