In the September/October, 2019 issue of the Jefferson Journal, I reported on our initiative to improve regional news coverage. In that column, I wrote that the linchpin of this effort will be “timely, fact-based reporting” and “stories that explain complex regional issues.” In late November, JPR News reported on two stories that I believe deliver on our goals for a stronger regional news operation and indicate that we’re headed in the right direction. Both stories went on to receive significant national attention following JPR’s reporting.
On November 20, JPR regional reporter April Ehrlich covered the City of Cave Junction’s plan to install security cameras on street lights in parts of downtown Cave Junction. The plan included making the video stream from these cameras available to a group called the CJ Patrol, a private citizen volunteer organization whose primary mission is “to prevent, interrupt, report, and decrease property crime” in the city, according to the group’s website. Since the City of Cave Junction doesn’t have its own police force and Josephine County Sheriff deputies only patrol the city during the day, the Cave Junction City Council approved the plan as a way to augment public safety and law enforcement. April’s reporting on that plan revealed that CJ Patrol volunteers do not undergo background checks nor receive any formal training and that the volunteers might identify “hardcore criminals” by how they look or what they wear, according to City of Cave Junction Recorder Rebecca Patton. JPR’s reporting revealed significant potential civil rights issues related to Cave Junction’s proposed security camera plan and also called into question the broader issue about the use of publicly operated surveillance systems in public spaces. Subsequent to our report, The Washington Post covered the Cave Junction story in early December.
On November 21, April also reported on a November 19th letter sent by then City of Redding Mayor Julie Winter to California Governor Gavin Newsom asking him to declare a state of emergency over homelessness in order to access funding typically reserved for natural disasters. In addition to providing funding for temporary shelter spaces and staffing, the letter asked Newsom for funding to support “Required mental health treatment for the severely mentally ill, up to and including conservatorship until such time as the individual has demonstrated the ability to care for themselves, including managing their finances.” In clarifying her request, Winter told JPR that the type of facility she envisioned, “might be a low-security facility, but it’s not a facility you could just leave because you wanted to. You need to get clean, you need to get sober, you need to demonstrate self-sufficiency, and once you do that you’re free to go.” JPR’s reporting on the City of Redding’s attempt to address homelessness with mandatory detainment and treatment programs put a national spotlight on this issue causing VICE News to develop further reporting on the topic.
Over the past two years, JPR has taken significant steps to bolster its local journalism. We’ve expanded our facility to support a larger newsroom with greater news production capacity, and we’ve hired two full-time regional reporters and a full-time News Director. Our recent work is a direct result of that effort.
We continue to believe that public radio needs to play a more central role in fulfilling the essential functions of a strong and free press within a changing media landscape. We remain committed to illuminating the actions of government at all levels, so that governments conduct the work of citizens in the light of day and for the common good. And we look forward to creatively and boldly telling the stories of our region, upholding the highest journalistic standards for fairness and accuracy while continuing to earn the trust you’ve placed in us.