Come on reader light my fire

“Coffee with the Editor” events provided thoughtful, exciting conversation

I am still running of the proverbial high from our “Coffee with the Editor” events we held last week in Covington and Renton. What an amazing turnout we had, and how wonderful it is to see a community so involved with its local paper.

The last 10 years in the news industry has been tumultuous (a small understatement) and the last four years has seemed like an endless barrage of undeserved criticism caused by the influx of fake news outlets and manipulation from websites that share on social media. For most of my journalism career it seems like half of my job has been proving my own credentials and fighting back bad information, which spreads like an oil fire. Sometimes I feel like shaking online readers and yelling “Read more than the headline!”

That metaphorical oil fire had left me feeling burned out the last year. The pep in my step I had in journalism school slowed after the first two years to a slow walk and in the last year even slower to a dawdling plod.

I felt a spark in my engine for work again after my first week as editor here but talking with the community we serve was like adding high-octane gasoline to my tank.

In Covington we had a spontaneous, yet thorough, conversation with a handful of residents, city leaders, school district staff and potential columnist. We covered every topic and spent over an hour sitting at an actual round table conversing.

We discussed local issues such as the city’s efforts to bring in more police, the continued growth of the local businesses, missing coverage, the need for fair journalism and more. We were given a lot of critiques matched with just as many compliments. The discussion was authentic, thoughtful and hopefully left a lot more people interested in our paper.

Covington mayor Jeff Wagner stopped at our table and listened in to what the residents had to say, while Maple Valley Mayor Sean P. Kelly came early and stayed late, contributing a lot of questions and answers through the morning.

One interesting question I received was what us at the paper perceive to be our responsibility when it comes to combating false information and rumors on social media, specifically Facebook.

Anyone on Facebook knows about the hundreds of neighborhood pages, buy-sell-trade spots and more. Maple Valley and Covington has more than a handful of pages dedicated to news, information and events, but mainly public commentary on anything and everything.

As politicians, educators and journalists have found out, the rumor mill started working at its fastest pace thanks to Facebook. And as leaders we all have to make ethical decisions about what we do and don’t respond with.

As a newspaper editor I feel the need to still combat the disinformation with good information our reporters provide. But then again, the same people who begin rumors will also dissent against our good information.

So my answer to the question? We just keep doing our best. We do see what people say online and we try to find the real truth if warranted. But it’s up to our readers to keep working against the “fake news” so readily available online.

Some visitors to our event also discussed columns that would highlight local history, having the school districts more involved in the paper and more.

It was an invigorating event, so much so I am hoping to do it again next month. Maybe we can schedule for a later time for those who couldn’t attend the morning coffee meetings.

I hope to see you there, reader.