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Wattenburger: Why NORCOR was worth our time

Published on December 8, 2017 6:09PM

It’s my belief that journalists, accustomed to asking questions, need to get better at answering them and explaining how and why we report the stories we do.

We ask you to trust the information we publish, and it’s only fair to show how the work is done.

With that in mind, the East Oregonian is going to use space on a semi-regular basis to deconstruct a recently published article and explain how we chose our sources, sifted through data, verified facts, selected certain words and decided when it was ready to publish.

We will take nothing for granted. Decisions that seem obvious are sometimes the most worth examining. And we encourage further questions. The media is a tool for looking critically at the powers that be, and we must be willing to put our work up to the same rigorous evaluation.

We’re starting with the article reported by Phil Wright and published Wednesday about the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility’s treatment of youth who are housed at the jail.

The story began when we were apprised of a report by Disability Rights Oregon, a federally designated advocacy group, after representatives toured the facility on several occasions and interviewed youth inmates.

The report was released last week but embargoed until Tuesday at 8 a.m., a common practice for organizations intending to give media time to read a report, ask questions and do our own research before publishing.

We get reports and studies, news tips and press releases emailed to us nearly every day, and part of the job is deciding which merit the time, space and energy to follow up on. This report was appealing for several reasons.

First: The report’s creator has direct access that journalists do not. The jail was required to let an attorney enter the facility and talk to the youth on multiple occasions. For privacy reasons and because the inmates are minors, a newspaper isn’t even able to access the names of most of the juveniles held there, some of whom come from Umatilla and Morrow counties.

The organization also has a history of credibility. In March it published a similar report about the Multnomah County Jail that found similar methods for dealing with inmates suffering from mental illness.

And most importantly, the findings are relevant for the public to understand. We entrust a lot of funding and power to those who manage the criminal justice system — especially those who oversea children — and have a responsibility to examine how they are doing their jobs.

Once we decided the story was worth the time and attention, we got to work.


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