On a Mission

Our future and the necessity of local journalism

by Kaarin Knudson

You might’ve made New Year’s resolutions last weekend, outlining your personal goals for 2023. Research would indicate that many of us have resolved to improve our health and connections in the year ahead. 

Unfortunately, few of us have an actual plan for how to do that. For most, the difference between setting goals and meeting goals comes down to structure and habit. Writing down goals is the first step toward externalizing an internal aspiration — it’s the same process that organizations go through when composing a mission statement. 

At City Club of Eugene, we spend a lot of time thinking about the many missions of this community, and about the importance of shared facts and civil discourse. Our mission is to create the space for open inquiry and learning, which is how shared vision comes into focus. And now, more than ever, local journalism is crucial to this endeavor.

Journalists are watchdogs, skeptics and fact-finders. They provide a foundation of understanding that shapes community vision. The First Amendment specifies freedom of the press because journalists act as guardians of democracy and of a society rooted in open inquiry — the heart of City Club’s mission. Local journalists sit through those five-hour public meetings. They gather our divergent, ardent opinions. They have a responsibility to hold public officials’ feet to the fire. Most of us rely on journalists to understand current events and the workings of powerful institutions. Critically, local journalists help us to see the story beyond the narratives. 

Writer Rebecca Solnit once described journalists as public storytellers with a duty to “break the story” — and she meant both meanings of the word. Local journalists help us to connect the dots and to face realities we’d rather ignore. Before being celebrated, award-winning journalism is usually “disturbing” and “explosive” — that’s how it feels when something interrupts the status quo. Which makes me think of our tenacious weekly.

For these reasons and more, City Club of Eugene is proud to feature the role of local journalism and to  honor the 40th anniversary of Eugene Weekly during our first program of 2023. Join us noon Friday, Jan. 6, at the 5th Street Public Market for this program. It will rebroadcast on KLCC 89.7 PM at 7 pm Monday, Jan. 9.

From EW’s original What’s Happening to the news of this very week, we’ll talk about what makes the Weekly an essential component of our local community and the challenges and opportunities that journalists currently face right here in Oregon. 

During its four decades in print, EW has evolved from an arts and entertainment zine to a weekly known for longer-format reporting, award-winning criticism, guest columns like this one, and enough first-person irreverence and sub-pop A&E to maintain its alternative bona fides. Every seven days, the Weekly completes what can be a thankless task: It holds up a mirror to “our issues” while still maintaining a prideful affinity for the evolving people, places, and ideas that make our story unique.

EW has a long history of accomplished editors and writers who have worked two decades under the steadfast guidance of publisher Anita Johnson and a group of hard-working visionaries, past and present, that include the paper’s four founders: Elizabeth Lyman, Lucia McKelvey, Sonja Ungemach and Lois Wadsworth. While the pandemic hurt the Weekly’s revenues, the paper has not stopped looking toward new opportunities, such as collaborating with other alt weeklies, launching a public affairs series and expanding its digital opinion page to accommodate The Register-Guard’s emigrant grumps.

Eugene Weekly isn’t alone; we have several sources of local news. Eugene is far from a “news desert,” but we do face periods of drought. The challenges we face in 2023 are real, and the role of local journalists — investigative storytellers who actually know the characters — is critical. While corporate entertainment-media prey on partisanship and social media algorithms concentrate bias, local journalism can offer refreshing clarity amidst fracturing public awareness.

It’s from shared understanding that we can work toward a shared future. Join us in celebrating the Weekly’s ubiquitous red boxes as a defining fixture of this community, and in making space for questions and dialogue.  

Kaarin Knudson, AIA, is president of the City Club of Eugene, in addition to her work in housing and sustainable urban design. 

“Celebrating Eugene Weekly at 40: The Past, Present and Future of Local Journalism” will be at the City Club of Eugene noon Friday, Jan. 6. City Club meets at the 5th Street Public Market, in the Maple Room at the Inn at the 5th (lunch available). Everyone is welcome; you do not need to be a member to attend. More information about City Club’s upcoming Friday programs is at CityClubOfEugene.org.