January 13, 2019

This is one of 15 profiles in our series on journalism’s last decade. For the rest of the stories, visit “The Hardest Decade in Journalism?

In 2008, Les Zaitz worked from his ranch in eastern Oregon as an investigative reporter for The Oregonian.

“I was tasked to take on the most challenging investigations and the joy was finding ways to bring them home in the face of significant obstacles,” he said.

His biggest worry was whether or not he made an error in a story.

Zaitz figured that by 2018, he’d be retired, “riding horses, checking fence and chasing a few cows on my ranch.”

Instead, he’s running the weekly Malheur Enterprise and last year launched the online site The Salem Reporter.

Here’s what the past decade has been like for him.

In the last 10 years, what are the biggest changes you’ve had to make in your job?

As I moved to retirement and then un-retired into community journalism, learning the mechanics and values of social media as news tools was a big change — and big opportunity.

In the last 10 years, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen journalism go through?

The erosion of public confidence in our work is the single most significant change. When we lose the trust of readers and viewers, we have failed. The huge shift in graphic presentation of news has made reports more accessible and inviting, but I wonder at what cost to actual news gathering.

What are you doing now that you didn’t expect to be doing 10 years ago?

I’m now running an all-digital local news service in Oregon’s capital that is a subscription-based business. That was nowhere on my “to do” list until 2018.

Looking back, what do you wish you’d done or changed faster?

My greatest regret is not gaining data skills.

Looking back, what are you glad you didn’t give up in your career?

My passion to pass on to future generations of journalists the reporting skills and professional ethics that have guided my work for 40-plus years.

How have newsroom layoffs impacted your work, your newsroom and the city where you live?

In my current life, I’m swimming against the tide of reductions. My community weekly newspaper has added staff — and paid interns. The news startup in Salem, Oregon, created three well-paying reporting jobs. In the mayhem of media, there is opportunity.

What advice would 2018 you give 2008 you?

I would lecture myself about life balance — that single-minded focus on an exciting, major investigation shouldn’t be done in sacrifice to an outside life with family, friends.

What’s the best thing that’s happened in journalism in the past decade?

The resurgence in investigative reporting that the public appreciates — and demands from us.

What’s the worst thing that’s happened in journalism in the past decade?

The blindness of media executives to shifts in consumer attitudes and tastes, particularly the lateness to the web and the folly of giving away quality news at no charge.

What are you the most excited about now in your career?

Continuing to help early career journalists set a strong course for a productive and energizing career.

What are you the most afraid of now in your career?

Providing answers to surveys that only make people yawn.

Where do you think you’ll be 10 years from now?

With luck, I’ll be in the saddle on a gentle gelding, prowling my ranch, satisfied that my professional career ended with a strong finish instead of petering out.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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