Sister Act: Local Media with the Woolingtons

Posted on May 5, 2014


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Josephine and Rebecca Woolington are sisters and journalists who covered local governments in Oregon. 


Vitals

Rebecca & Josephine Woolington 

Rebecca & Josephine

Rebecca: Washington County, OR Public Safety Reporter, The Oregonian

Education: B.S. Magazine & Advertising – University of Oregon

Connect: Twitter & LinkedIn

Josephine: Breaking News & Cops Reporter, The Eugene (OR) Register Guard

Education: B.A. Journalism & Political Science – University of Oregon

Connect: Twitter & LinkedIn


Background Check

rebecca & bearRebecca, the older sister, has been working in journalism since 2009 when she interned at the Herald in Klamath Falls and the Register Guard in Eugene. She started at the Oregonian in 2010 where she covers crime, public safety, and law in Washington County, some of her recent stories include: Authorities still searching for missing Aloha girl, feared to be victim of human traffickingForest Grove commuters: Look out, cops are conducting crosswalk stingBeaverton police investigate tire-slashings at restaurant; 8 vehicles damaged. While in school at the University of Oregon, Rebecca worked for the Daily Emerald, the school’s student newspaper. She was the News Editor when the news staff went on strike to protest the newspaper board’s hiring of Steven A. Smith, see the article: Emerald News Staff Strikes.

Josephine is also a graduate of the University of Oregon where she served as the Daily Emerald’s news editor in the spring of 2012 before moving to online managing editor in the fall of 2012. Her stories at the Emerald included an in depth report on the University’s sexual assault policies: Who’s the one to blow the whistle? How the UO’s sexual assault reporting policy measures up. Josephine has worked at the Register Guard in since April of 2013 and currently covers breaking news and cops for the local paper. Some of her recent stories include: Track star accused of misdemeanorSheldon student accused of soliciting minors for sexual photosEugene schools look to cut costs.


 Lightning Round

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First concert?

Rebecca: A Merle Haggard show at the Clark County Fair; I was a young child.

Josephine: Merle Haggard at the Clark County Fair.

(Complete the sentence) Before I die I want to…….

Rebecca: Consistently tell stories that resonate with people and evoke change, road trip across the country, own a pug, see The Rolling Stones and touch a killer whale.

Josephine: Travel across Spain, form a successful jazz quartet, ride an ostrich, own two pugs, and see Stevie Wonder and The Rolling Stones live. (Not together, although that would be awesome.

Three accomplishments in the last 24 hours.

Rebecca: I went for a run, paid my bills/rent on time and talked extensively about writing.

Josephine: Practiced piano, singing and did yoga.

Describe the inside of your car.

Rebecca: For how messy I am, the inside of my car is remarkably clean. There’s typically an umbrella on the passenger side floorboard and a little coffee spilled on the center console by the cup holders. There may be a loose gas receipt or two. It’s packed with music. I’m a bit old-school and need my tunes on CDs. There’s always some Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin, Stones and Beatles in there. The trunk is a total disaster.

Josephine: My car is basically a newspaper archive. I have every issue of The Register-Guard from the past two weeks there. I’ll recycle them soon. I also have an empty water bottle, gum wrappers and CDs.

(Complete the sentence) I know I sound old when……..

Rebecca: I wake up at 8 a.m. on the weekends and can’t fall back to sleep.

Josephine: I can scat the guitar solo in the Doug theme song.

Mentors?

Rebecca: I respect the work of so many people. When I write a story, I generally send it to Emily E. Smith, who covers Washington County courts for The Oregonian, before I publish. She and I work very closely together and bounce ideas off each other all day long. She’s an amazing writer, reporter, storyteller and friend. She’s my partner in crime at The O, and I learn so much from her. Other inspirations include: Anna Griffin and Casey Parks, both of The Oregonian. My sister, Josephine, is also very influential.

Josephine: My sister.

Dream job when you were 12.

Rebecca: Fashion designer.

Josephine: Becoming the next Mariah or Whitney.

Your parent’s best advice:

Rebecca: Try journalism.

Josephine: Work hard.


Q & A with the Woolingtons

What is your favorite story that you’ve written involving local government?

Hillsboro Police doing yoga
Hillsboro Police doing yoga

Rebecca: This is actually a pretty tough question. I think my favorite project has been a package of stories on a mindfulness training program that the Hillsboro Police Department implemented last year. The program strives to build resiliency in officers and to make them more holistically healthy. The program’s creators predict that cops who are more mentally healthy would have better interactions with the public, showing less judgment and more empathy. So essentially, the creators said, they are looking to improve police-community relations by looking inward.

The stories published last month. This project incorporated many of my favorite parts of journalism. There were some storytelling opportunities; I spoke with several officers who went through the training, and I wrote about their experiences. The project challenged me as a writer. And, though nuanced, there was also an element of accountability.

Josephine: I enjoy writing stories that hold local governments accountable, produce change and spark community discussion. I recently wrote a story about a former high school principal who suddenly resigned in November to take a newly created position within the Eugene School District. I later learned through records requests and interviews that the job shift may have been spurred by multiple complaints from parents. The district also hired an investigator to look into some aspect of the former principal’s job performance.

It was rewarding to read several notes from teachers and community members, thanking me for writing the story. Some readers even wrote letters to the editor about the piece.

Are there any stereotypes about local governments that you’ve found to be true?

Rebecca: There’s a need for more transparency. From a reporter’s perspective, pushing for transparency is a never-ending battle. People often aren’t up front with you, defer you to others or drag their feet in fulfilling information requests.

Government is also slow-moving. This applies to policy changes, projects or investigations.

And politics exist everywhere.

Josephine: I think government agencies can always be more up-front. It makes our job as reporters much easier if the agency is honest.

What are 2-3 things local government staff can do better when working with the media?

Rebecca: I don’t want to sound like a broken record here, but I will reiterate what I said above that government officials should be more transparent. It is important for local governments to keep in mind that their work is done on the taxpayers’ dime, so the public has a right to know about it. When reporters ask questions about a government process, our interest is not idle. We are asking questions and seeking information on behalf of the public. We are keeping the community informed and holding officials accountable.

In addition to being more transparent, local officials could also be more responsive to reporters and release information more quickly. I think the need to provide information faster could apply to multiple situations, whether it’s breaking news, such as a shooting, or fulfilling a public records request.

Local officials could also show more respect for what reporters do. We exist to inform the public about what is going on in their government. If officials blow us off, they are essentially blowing off the public. In many cases, we are the way the public communicates with its government. Without us, the public would largely be left in the dark. In saying that, I’m not coming from an arrogant place. I passionately believe in the work that reporters do, the public’s right to know and the value and importance of storytelling.

Josephine: Again, I think local government agencies could be more transparent and more responsive to records requests.

Is there anything an organization that you’ve covered has done that you wish all local governments would do?

Rebecca: I’ve had agencies provide public records at either no cost or at a low, affordable cost. I’ve had other agencies provide records request estimates that, by my standards, were incredibly expensive. While I understand that there is cost and work involved in gathering information and fulfilling records requests, I think that the cost should be waived whenever possible. This comes back to transparency. It shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg for the public to figure out what’s going on in their government.

Josephine: I appreciate government agencies that communicate quickly with me and give me information on breaking news events quickly. I remember, for example, a local government spokeswoman prepared for me several documents and arranged an interview with two key staff members, and I didn’t even ask her to do that. That was very helpful because it saved both of us time.I also appreciate when agencies can break down a complex topic for me in plain English.

We’ve heard social media can be a helpful tool for communicating with media, what are your thoughts?

Rebecca: I think social media is helpful. As a cops reporter, it’s helpful for me when agencies use Twitter to provide updates about breaking news events. This allows me to quickly learn more about an incident and share the information with the community on Twitter and then on OregonLive.

Josephine: Yes, I follow a lot of different agencies on Twitter and find it helpful to check their tweets during breaking events. However, I think more law enforcement agencies in Lane County could use Twitter more to keep media and the public informed.


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