Jim Pumarlo, Community Newspaper Training

Keeping ear to ground not conflict of interest

By Jim Pumarlo

The official title is editor of the Republican Eagle – gatekeeper of what finds its way into the newspaper. But that role cannot be carried out responsibly without having an ear to the ground. The vibrancy of the R-E, and other community newspapers, is a direct result of employee participation in a variety of civic activities.

That role often falls disproportionately on my shoulders, as it has on my predecessors’. My unwritten job description is liaison to the community.

A reader questioned my participation in a community organization in a letter on this page Monday. He characterized it as a conflict of interest.

In contrast, I view it as an integral part of fulfilling our mission as a community institution. The participation of me and other employees gives this newspaper, and thus readers, another perspective – and, often knowledge – that is not readily available through normal channels.

A gray line 

The fact is it often is difficult to separate what is newspaper work and what is community work. My involvement continues to be personally fulfilling and complements my newspaper duties. Organizations often specifically seek the participation of newspaper staff members.

It has been my good fortune to serve on a variety of boards and organizations. During one stretch I was president of the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce as well as secretary of the United Way and YMCA boards.

I’ve been chairman of Red Wing 2020 and a member of two task forces – one focusing on retail development and another seeking a solution to stabilize the local tax base of the Prairie Island nuclear plant. I was co-chairman of the 2020 Learning Committee which worked with the school district to identify and pursue common goals.

Former membership on the Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical Foundation Board afforded a perspective on the importance of higher education to Red Wing and the surrounding area.

I was a founding member of the Children First initiative, and also of the Suppress Active Gangs Early project and was on the organizing committee of the first Native American Week celebration. I served on the initial school advisory committee on alcohol and drugs and worked on the Community Education advisory board. I continue to serve on the outreach worker advisory board.

Community glimpse

Participation in the first Leadership Red Wing class and Blandin Foundation community leadership program offered insight into what makes a community tick and what is necessary to ensure it continues to prosper.

Noontime Kiwanis Club offers another glimpse of community life. Membership on the Mayor’s Citizens Advisory Committee for the Minnesota Correctional Facility helps understand the local impact of changes in corrections. The city’s TV committee is an opportunity to improve ways for citizens to connect with local government. Service on the Philip S. Duff Jr. Endowment Fund Advisory Committee introduces me to other programs that enrich this community.

Former membership on the Chamber of Commerce’s Ambassadors Clubs offered a quick introduction to those businesses that choose to make Red Wing their home. My current chairmanship of the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee and participation in the Red Wing Manufacturers Association offer a better understanding of the challenges businesses face in local and state regulations as well as a variety of other issues.

On a state level, that understanding has been enhanced by my service on the Minnesota Chamber Board of Directors where I also served as chairman of its education policy committee. I also remain involved in the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s journalism education and legislative affairs committees. The Minnesota News Council helped develop a better sensitivity to and appreciation of people’s criticism of the press and other media.

The list of ad hoc task forces and committees is nearly endless. But participation in them helps get the editor out of the ivory tower.

Draw the line

Does participation by me or other R-E employees in community organizations dictate automatic endorsement of activities? Not by a long shot.

There’s no better example than our relationship with Main Street Red Wing. This newspaper has long been a staunch supporter of downtown, but we also have been unafraid to voice our criticism of the failure of merchants to step to the plate on such issues as uniform and extended shopping hours. On more than one occasion, editorials have prompted a visit from the downtown association.

The R-E endorses employee participation, but also is sensitive that our involvement does not stand in the way of news decisions. Organizations in which we are involved are held to the same standards of coverage and scrutiny as other groups.

Newspapers become faceless and meaningless in the eyes of readers if they do not take the pulse of local events. R-E employee participation enriches rather than detracts from this newspaper’s service to our community.

Pumarlo.com • Jim Pumarlo • Community Newsroom Success Strategies • 1327 W. Sixth St. • Red Wing, MN • 55066 • (651) 380-4295