Appreciate your local paper (and other final thoughts)

I no longer work for the News-Register. Along with a legion of other journalists, my job ended with the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing body blow to the economy globally and locally.

Guest Writer

Tom Henderson is a 40-year veteran of Northwest journalism. He spent 5 1/2 years at the News-Register before recently losing his job to the devastating economic impact of the pandemic. He has served as editor of several Oregon weeklies, editorial page editor at Idaho’s Lewiston Tribune and president of the Oregon and Idaho chapters of the Society of Professional Journals. Currently freelancing for Portland’s Street Roots, he has won more than 100 awards for his work. 

What’s that? No, thank you, I don’t want to talk about it. That would be unseemly under the circumstances.

About my recent, shall we say, “unpleasantness” reminds me of the time my dear father (bless his heart) once tried to empathize with me in the wake of my divorce.

He knew only too well that Cupid occasionally dips his arrows in curare, he said. Then he told me — for the 3,563rd time — the classic Parable of Eglantine Higginbotham. Miss Higginbotham was, quite possibly, the most exquisite woman Iowa had to offer in 1953. As a freshman at the University of Iowa, my father overcame his natural awkwardness long enough to invite the exquisite Eglantine to be his date at the annual College of Pharmacy fall gala.

Heartbreak ensued. Eglantine abandoned my father as soon as they reached the gala. She never wanted to be with him in the first place. All she wanted was access to the event and the free drug samples inexplicably doled out like candy corn during pharmacy soirees of the period. So yes, my father concluded at length, he knew of affairs of the heart gone wrong.

Really? He seriously thought the dissolution of my marriage of 15 years was somehow analogous to the Eglantine Incident?

I stared at him blankly for a few moments before explaining that his story was rather like watching the Hindenburg explode and telling survivors as they scrambled from the burning wreckage that you understood how they felt. Your balloon popped at the Indiana State Fair in 1907.

My point? Never imagine your personal brand of suffering means diddly squat compared with what the person next to you is going through. Therefore, it is generally a prudent policy to keep your wailing and teeth gnashing to yourself, especially true during the current pandemic.

People are dying. This is not a good time to complain about how your sideburns need a trim.

Thus, little needs to be said about my own lot in life, except to say my family and I are doing well.

I write these days as a freelance reporter for Street Roots, a Portland newspaper. Perhaps you know of it. The paper’s vendors, people experiencing poverty and homelessness, sell the paper for $1 on the streets of Portland. They keep every cent. They also become connected with a wide array of social services.

Although the print edition of the paper remains on hold during the pandemic, the paper still maintains a digital edition. More importantly, its vendors continue to make money as they help others through the crisis.

So, to borrow from Tennyson, may there be no moaning of the bar I put out to sea. I have been a working journalist since the Carter administration at 13 newspapers and three online news outlets. This marks my sixth layoff. Five have been in the last 12 years since the beginning of the Great Recession.

As the media waters melt, I keep jumping from ice floe to ice floe. I realize the temperature only gets warmer as I get older and, one day soon, I may well run out of ice floes. No matter. With 40 years before the mast, I had a better run than most. Even if I never see another byline, I have stayed in journalism more than long enough to validate my parking.

Yet I remain deeply troubled, not by my own fate but by the fate of journalism in general.

I know I am bordering very close to Eglantine Higginbotham territory. What matters the jobs of journalists or the fate of newspapers when close to 200,000 people have died because of the pandemic? It seems petty even to bring it up, like the mobs of whiny idiots who somehow see going to the pub as some sort of basic human right.

All that acknowledged, journalism matters — especially community journalism.

Without a local newspaper where neighbors can contribute information and opinions, communities risk becoming nothing more than collections of residents who share nothing more than the same zip code.

Websites can’t fill the void. For all the advantages of the Internet, no one has invented a truly viable way for websites to generate the same amount of advertising revenue as traditional newspapers. And that level of revenue is vital to employ enough reporters to adequately tell a community’s story.

A website might be able to employ a reporter to cover the city council, although probably not very thoroughly. However, there wouldn’t be enough reporters to cover the police, courts, school districts and county government.

Again, this is not about journalists losing their jobs. This is about people having the information they need to make informed decisions as local, state and national citizens in a free society.

If you think people could obtain that information without the help of journalists, read the websites unvetted by professional reporters and editors. It’s a cacophony of wild-eyed rumor, opinion and misinformation. At a time when many Americans, led by the president himself, are waging war on objective reality, sober-minded journalism is more important than ever.

Speaking of the president, the News-Register has had harsh things to say about the current occupant of the White House these last four years. I said some of them myself.

This angered a number of readers, some to the point of canceling their subscriptions and firing off equally harsh statements of their own.

I particularly liked the readers who blasted our opinions as “biased.” Accusing opinion writers of being biased is like accusing an NFL linebacker of being “physical.”

Opinions are biased. That’s why ours are confined to these pages and away from the news columns. At the risk of inflaming readers further, I would humbly suggest you should be proud of a local paper with the fortitude to voice strong opinions.

Many communities have anemic newspapers with editors afraid to take stands. They try to be all things to all people and end up being nothing to no one.

Take pride in a paper that has the courage of its convictions and takes positions. You are, after all, free to agree or disagree with them.

When I wrote editorials full time for Idaho’s Lewiston Tribune, I kept this quote from CBS News producer Fred Friendly taped to my computer: “Our job is not to make up anybody’s mind, but to open minds, and to make the agony of decisionmaking so intense you can escape only by thinking.”

Please remember that statement the next time steam comes out your ears while reading an editorial.

The News-Register isn’t saying the editorial board is right, and you’re wrong. It’s just offering you an opinion for you to consider.

When all of us are thinking alike, none of us is thinking very much.

I ask only one other thing in these traumatic times: Appreciate the News-Register, as its survival is by no means guaranteed. Indeed, without public support, its survival stands fearfully in danger.

That might be the underlying moral of the whole story of this pandemic. Don’t complain. Appreciate. While you still can.

I will remember the past five and a half years at the News-Register as one of the high points of my 40 years as a journalist.

Thanks for reading. As we write in journalism:



Brick House Wine Co.

Thank you for a critically important message...and all the best of luck and health...


Well said. May the News-Register and local journalism survive this pandemic.


Tom, I'm hoping theNews Register not only survives but thrives. Social media opinions are not journalism. The few bigger papers surviving are not covering local small city issues or local schools and sports. Hometown papers are the bas of democracy and we will be the poorer for their absence if they go.

Bill B

What a well written piece!


Tom's departure is another good reason to subscribe and read the NR. Henderson's journalistic contributions were often filled with errors and misquotes. Even Mac's homeless community was leery of him because of his inaccuracies.
So goodbye Tom Henderson. I wish you well, Tom, on your next adventure. Hopefully there won't be a thorough fact checker or you might just out of another job.

Christmas has Talons

Bye Tom,the NR should be thankful you moved on now maybe they might get one or two people to re-subscribe but I doubt it because people want journalistic integrity. The NR basically told many of us they don't care if they are offensive,dishonest or have tunnel vision it's not like we haven't told them so over the last twenty five years. Corona did kill the NR the NR killed itself with a thousand cuts and they could have changed courses at anytime but rather simply chose to be prideful and arrogant. And you said it Tom you write a story and you are biased when people who are expecting a factual, thoughtful news story and for you to have an "open mind" and it never happens. You really cracked me up with the "open minded" dig once again made at the few readers left. A brilliant strategy.......
Portland can have you and you can have her maybe you'll cover the naked bike ride there's lots of room for embellishment in a story like that.
But I do wish you well TTFN Ta Ta For Now.


Hey Tom – great article. It is heartbreaking that so many lives and livelihoods are being so negatively affected by current circumstances. Best of everything as you move forward into new territory. We will miss you.

(Re certain hateful commentary posted here, well – we can please some of the people some of the time but there is NO pleasing anonymous trolls, nor any valid reason to waste even two seconds of otherwise valuable time on their vapid malicious agendas.)

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