There once was a time when public officials trusted the media implicitly, they believed the media could have access to information and would know how to handle what they see.
That was long before the age of social media, the Internet and politicians who would label the media as “the enemy of the people.”
My first full-time job as reporter took me in the spring of 1977 from Portland, Ore., to a suburban community about 15 miles south of my hometown. I went to work for the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier, first as a sports writer and then as a general assignment reporter. The E-C was an afternoon newspaper; we published it Monday through Friday.
Given that it was a “p.m.” newspaper, our deadlines required us to report for work early in the day. My work days started before the sunrise, particularly after I moved from the sports desk and started working as a reporter.
My editor assigned me the task of going to police dispatchers’ offices each morning to collect the overnight police activity. The core of our circulation area concerned the Tri-Cities region: Oregon City, West Linn and Gladstone.
I would make the rounds with all three police departments, plus the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. The dispatchers would allow me to look at the call logs and — upon request — I could look at the police officers’ reports they had filed on specific calls.
That’s right. The dispatcher would give this grimy reporter access to the cops’ reports. Some of them were amazingly graphic in nature. The reports weren’t, um, often not that well-written. I occasionally had to interpret the messages the officers intended to convey.
But these police reports often provided some amazing stories that I could report to our community. One strange incident stands out, even more than 40 years later. It involved an Oregon City Police Department report about an officer responding to a guy who got stuck in a telephone booth in the wee hours. This poor schlub had used the phone, but couldn’t jimmy the door open so he could exit. He called the cops and an officer — along with a firefighting crew — responded to pry the guy out of the booth.
I followed a simple and straightforward credo: I was able to earn the trust of the dispatchers simply by being faithful to my pledge to treat the information I received with discretion.
Indeed, I never felt like anyone’s “enemy.” Nor do today’s journalists.