Editor's Views: Uplifting stories balance spate of nasty news
What a stretch of local news we've had this month.
Much of it has been bad, even tragic news. At The Gazette, we go after all local news aggressively, so the series of ugly crimes and sad misfortunes dominated front pages for days.
As usual, though, good news balanced the bad as the month wore on. That's thanks to a crop of uplifting features that warmed hearts and inspired readers.
I like to emphasize the good-news pieces because the bad stories make such strong impressions, and many people mindlessly claim the paper is full of nothing but negative news.
That is so far from the truth.
The month's flurry began in the Tuesday, May 6, paper with stories about events that unfurled over the previous few days.
An older woman went missing from her downtown Janesville apartment. A Janesville man allegedly stabbed his roommate in a drug-fueled fury while claiming he already had killed three others. A young woman's body was found near downtown. In Walworth County, a man was accused of stabbing his cousin to death.
That's a lot of cops and crime news for a week or even a month, much less one day's paper.
As those stories unfolded, we covered the developments in ensuing editions. The missing older woman was found dead in the river. Police investigated a possible link between the Janesville stabbing and the young woman's death. The accused appeared in court.
More stories on the crimes and those accused of them are sure to come.
If people longed for something positive among these negative stories, The Gazette came through.
While every day's paper has good news, the run of especially memorable and uplifting stories started Mother's Day, May 11. Reporter Marcia Nelesen profiled an 87-year-old mom of 17 who has spent her life surrounded by family. That's not surprising, given that, in addition to her 16 surviving children, Agnes Debroux has 35 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
On May 12, we devoted much of the front page to the outstanding music program in the Delavan-Darien School District, which is among the state's best. That's noteworthy because the musicians and their teachers shine while the district struggles with budget issues.
We followed May 15 and May 16 with touching pieces that showed the best of what we can do for each other.
In Evansville, middle-schooler Kendall Hazen reached out and offered support and friendship to schoolmate Katie Fahey, who has a rare brain malformation. If you lacked faith in the future, reading about young people such as Kendall surely restores your optimism that the world will be in good hands.
Then came a story on Kody Steinhoff, a graduating student at the Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped. The Janesville Police Department promoted Kody to honorary sergeant for his devotion and hours as a volunteer and gave him an official shirt bearing his name, a JPD badge, collar brass and a whistle. Kody beamed with pride in the photo.
Then came three columns by Anna Marie Lux, who specializes in feel-good stories. They told of nursing assistant Kathy Patrick helping make WWII veteran George Nordeng's dream come true by accompanying him on a VetsRoll trip to the monuments in Washington, D.C.; of Lexie Seaver and the pride she feels after earning her associate degree at UW-Rock County while battling a brain tumor; and of the students and staff at Janesville's Franklin Middle School, who unselfishly and enthusiastically do whatever it takes to help eighth-grader Zach Olson as he deals with school and the challenges of epilepsy.
We have no choice but to cover bad news. The flip side is more at our discretion, but we know how important good stories are to our readers and to the overall feel of our newspaper. We'll keep them coming.
Scott W. Angus is editor of The Gazette and vice president of news for Bliss Communications. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @sangus_.