Working to avoid the stories reporters don't want to write

Monday, December 15, 2008

Some of the best stories end up on the Southeast Missourian pages because someone called or just showed up in the the lobby.

Friday's visitor arrived looking scared and embarrassed, asking if I would make sure his name didn't appear in the police report, published on our records page.

I had to tell him no, in keeping with the Southeast Missourian's policy, but asked why it was so important.

He worried what his employer would say, but more importantly, he wanted to protect his parents. He wanted to prevent another fight from erupting.

"We've been having trouble," he said. The contrite look on his face and his drooping shoulders suggested he really felt, well, dumb about his second, most recent run-in with police.

He seemed to be feeling the consequences of what may have been a bad habit or a poor and impulsive choice. But he was lucky. He was standing up, able to speak, with a good friend nearby. He wasn't in jail or in a hospital, clinging to life, or dead. I don't want to write stories like that about him, (or anybody, really) and said so.

I asked him if he had a role model and what that person would do under similar circumstances. He stood up a little straighter and said his dad was probably the person he most admired "and he'd confess."

We talked a little more about what opportunities he has in the middle of this crisis. I asked him to keep in touch. We shook hands and he left with his friend. I hope during 2009 to put his name in this space and tell you how he turned his life around.

John Sachen, hazmat officer and fire instructor for the Delta Fire Protection District, reminded me of a another story reporters cringe at writing, the one about a family losing their home, possessions and Christmas gifts to a fire.

Candles, Christmas trees and space heaters are among the holiday fire culprits, and so are children playing with matches. But nearly half of all house fires start in the kitchen.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, more than half the people killed by house fires (an estimated 65 percent) died because their homes had no smoke detectors or had smoke alarms that were not working.

Smoke detectors and 9-volt batteries are probably not on anyone's Christmas wish list. Sachen asked that, as you shop, consider adding those to your basket.

No one, he said, is so broke they can't afford to pick up a smoke detector and a 9-volt battery, because it could end up saving your life.

Readers had a bit of a field day debating whether and when Highway 34 should get a makeover from MoDOT. On Friday, Bill Robison, MoDOT planning manager for Southeast Missouri, reminded me of MoDOT's recent 34-project package, designed to lure economic stimulus dollars in the event some become available. That list includes the No. 1 priority on Highway 34: the stretch between Piedmont to Patterson.

"It's been on MoDOT's radar screen for years and years," he said. "I was just talking to the folks in Piedmont. It's been a project for them for about 50 years."

The only impediment, he said, is getting the $16 million to pay for the work. Missouri, like every other state, put together extra roadwork plans, in hopes of snagging some federal economic stimulus money that may be granted by the incoming Barack Obama administration.

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