It has nearly been a month since I was officially offered the position of editor here at the Sentinel, and I feel encouraged by what I have seen here so far. Cottage Grove citizens, individuals within the city government, the business community, and the non-profit sector have all been welcoming and candid. Some of these people I already knew from the interactions I had with the city of Cottage Grove as the owner and editor of the paper I operated prior to taking on my new role of employment here in Cottage Grove.
I started Free For All News in Springfield, Oregon in 2016 with my then-partner, Jay Munoz. The idea was to provide a free publication that served Eugene, Springfield, and the surrounding communities. Our focus was on highlighting the positive aspects of Lane County living. Springfield did not have a city newspaper then, and it seemed to Jay and me that our rural communities could use more media attention.
For years, I thrived on the new relationships I built and the new experiences I had exploring Lane County. Cottage Grove was the first town that really tried to adopt me, and the Cottage Grove Rotary Club was the first service organization I had ever joined in my life. Thanks to the people I met there, as well as the event organizers of Cottage Grove institutions like Bohemia Mining Days and the Western Oregon Exposition, I was slowly able to develop my business persona.
When Free For All News was first formed, I had no such persona with which to arm myself. There I was, around so many successful people; I was 26 years old, I hadn’t finished college, and I felt horribly out of place. I couldn’t direct an interview to save my life. But I could show up.
The first piece of journalism advice I received was just that: show up; make yourself a press pass and show up. It was the editor of a California-based publication – a snarky publication, and the kind you might find in a dive bar or a strip club - that told me that. And I am eternally grateful. Because of that piece of advice, I simply started following my sense of curiosity and writing about what I found. Shortly after that life-altering conversation took place, the Ammon Bundy “militia group” decided to camp out at a certain federal building in Burns, Oregon. And I showed up. In Burns. It was a ten-hour drive, round-trip, but I showed up. And I learned something.
Since I’ve come to train under Damien Sherwood, the Sentinel’s outgoing editor, I have received an immense amount of encouragement from the Cottage Grove community. The people here are obviously very vested in the future of the town, and they want to see their city newspaper succeed.
I was surprised to learn that the Cottage Grove Sentinel has been publishing accounts of South Lane County news and happenings since 1889. Consider that, just for a moment. The Sentinel has survived while thousands of other city newspapers have disappeared. That is a testament to the sense of community here.
I remember reading somewhere while studying the growth of “news deserts” in this country, that if city newspapers were a type of animal, then they would have been placed on the Endangered Species List by now. That said, I wish to convey to the readers of the Sentinel, that I understand the rare and cherished thing that a city publication is, that it has become.
I hope Cottage Grove residents will take this letter as an invitation to reach out, touch base, tell me what you think, tell me what is going on, and tell me what you want from your local newspaper. It is only through the Sentinel’s interactions with you that it can be sustained and remain a relevant resource. My email is [email protected].