"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The value of news

From my April column in the Oklahoma Publisher"

All journalists want their work to matter, and we tell ourselves that it does, that we make a difference. Every once in a while, something happens that puts everything we value in perspective, and also underlines why newspapers are so important.

Such an event filled our lives the first week of April. I received a phone call on Saturday April 4 from my colleague and friend Dr. Keith Swezey, who teaches broadcasting at UCO. His beautiful 20 year-old daughter had been killed in a car wreck about 2 a.m. Saturday. Every parent’s nightmare had become real for Keith and his wife Dixie. I was too shocked to ask for details, but started calling the rest of my colleagues to spread the terrible news.

Then I went online, everywhere, trying to find details. Nothing. I so wanted to get the information, because somehow that would help us all. The facts started trickling in. AP had a story. The Norman Transcript did. Our broadcast students put together a story for their Monday newscast, and I asked the anchor, Alicia Raymond to write the obit for The Vista. She told me that was the hardest writing she’d ever done. She was one of the greeters at the Journalism Hall of Fame the day before the death. The O’Colly in Stillwater had a strong story. (Erin Swezey was a sophomore there, a member of the OSU choral).

The mood in our department was morose. We’d sit in our offices or in groups, and silence would reign. Nothing else mattered. Diana Baldwin of The Oklahoman came out and wrote a feature about our students wearing blue ribbons for Erin and Keith and family. The funeral at the Quail Springs Baptist church on Wednesday packed the house. Erin was a real Christian, a tribute to her family and their values and parenting. It was all I could do to sit there before the funeral and watch the projected photos of a baby girl growing up over the past short 20 years into a beautiful woman.

I’ve long known the value of newspapers, but this tragedy brought it home to me with power. All of us craved facts, craved being able to find out what happened, because we needed to try to make sense of it, because we needed to connect, because we wanted to know. I do know there are times when words don’t work, when you try to say or write something to people who have suffered tremendous loss. But words in print about those events are incredibly important.


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