I took a mountain of exchange newspapers home with me last night, seeking the answer to a question I’d asked of a friend during STPA’s newspaper awards presentation a couple of weeks ago. I was pondering the recent absence of community service award entries in some regional contests.
What is community service? Of course, I know the answer. We all do. The real question I was asking was this: Of all the stories we report, the events and meetings we cover, the photographs we shoot, the editorial dust we stir, what isn’t community service?
So this was my research for the evening. It left me with ink-stained hands, a rumpled mound of newspapers — which Oscar the Cat found quite suitable for napping, and these notes — a sampling from the week in news:
Following up on an Atmos Energy gas pipe leak in February, The [Georgetown] Sun’s Brad Stutzman reported that 32 of 89 area businesses that had been evacuated were still closed. Among them, the Ace Hardware store, whose manager was photographed watering garden plants he can’t sell, worried that — after seven weeks — his customers might just go elsewhere, and this 60-year-old business, and its plants, would die.
Wise County Messenger writer Brian Knox recalled a local police sergeant’s death at the end of a high-speed pursuit a decade earlier. He chronicled Sgt. Randy White’s last day. It began with a kiss goodbye to his wife, an administrators’ meeting and the dispatch to a vehicle pursuit, where White guided drivers to safety out of the speeding SUV’s path. It ended abruptly, with the fateful words, “Officer down,” crackling over the scanner. A simple story that captured an officer’s life and death, and gave renewed meaning to both.
In the Iowa Park Leader’s columns, Managing Editor Kevin Hamilton drilled down on Texas legislators’ spending plans while the inimitable Kari Collins anxiously rooted for Texas Tech over Michigan State, calming her nerves by toggling over to Ghost Adventures while swishing medicinal wine, which paired nicely with the Oreo crumbs from her lap.
Booker News Editor/Publisher/Mom Joni Parvin reported that, with the Texas Water Development Board’s help, the city water line project had run $150,000 over budget. Not surprisingly, the mayor vowed not to seek their “help” again. As spring storm season approached, Parvin reminded readers how to sign up for emergency alerts. Her column featured a recipe for Easy Easter Fluff, and a tale — certain to provide future mortification — of her young son dropping towel and appearing at the front door “stark naked” to greet a visitor.
Even a good laugh and a family recipe qualify as community service.
Post-Signal reporter Abigail Allen wrote about dangerous highway conditions in Denton County, and the efforts of their state representative to get $15 million in funding for improvements. Fellow reporter Andres David Lopez told the tragic story of a neglected foster child who scavenged from neighborhood trash cans for food until formation of a local nonprofit began changing the lives of young people aging out of the foster care system.
For several weeks now, The Clarendon Enterprise has shed not altogether welcome light on the local college’s Board of Regents meetings, which are now under scrutiny by the board of the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission. In the resulting shakeup, a sharply divided board chose not to extend the president’s contract, one longstanding board member promised his letter of resignation, and another admitted, “I would rather go for a monthly colonscopy than come to these meetings.” Publisher Roger Estlack stirred more than one pot this week, also outing several candidates in upcoming elections who had outstanding tax bills — news which elicited fervent promises to pay up.
Community service? Hell, yes.
In the Port Aransas South Jetty, Zach Perkins’ coverage of the Port of Corpus Christi’s permit application to discharge wastewater from a proposed desalination plant on Harbor Island called attention to the ecological concerns it would pose, and amplified the voices of nearly 200 citizens who attended a hearing on the subject. In the same issue, a front-page photo showed an alligator — “Fred,” we later learned — being tied up and muzzled in preparation for banishment because its habit of lurking near shopping areas “might pose a danger to the community.” Both understated and accurate.
Suffice it to say that after a sleepless night, I have answered my own question.
From tragedy to triumph, from the perfunctory to the profound, from front page to back, these newspapers and many others embody community service. They are community service writ large.
If not for them, who would deliver this important local news?
Bloomberg reported this week that Warren Buffett — the man behind a print-media corporation that includes the Omaha World-Herald — doesn’t think most newspapers can be saved. Once bullish on the newspaper industry, the Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s billionaire CEO has decided that, with the decline of advertising, most newspapers are “toast.”
“The world has changed hugely,” Buffet said.
To which, I say, just wait. If Buffet’s assessment is right, you ain’t seen nothing yet.