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Take drugs off the street and put them in people's homes.

Illegal as that sentence sounds, that's what the Southeast Missourian and KFVS-TV will try to do in the coming days.

The two news organizations are cooperating this week in presenting a series of stories called "Zero Tolerance." This joint investigative project takes aim at the region's drug problem, specifically the cocaine and crack being distributed and used in our midst.

Particularly of interest in putting together this series is the human misery that drugs inflict on the region. The seminal idea of this project was to look at the broad reach of cocaine: murders, assorted shootings, assaults, burglaries and other crimes have been linked to the drug's presence in this region.

And none of this criminal activity much of it inflicted on people who have never used drugs takes into account the broken lives caused by the problem, nor does it reflect the enormous burden placed on the criminal justice system and the taxpayers who support it.

While we have retained our standards for good journalism, in some ways this project has allowed our news organizations to lower the mantle of objectivity: No source we spoke with argued drug sales and use were desirable activities. This destructive enterprise is not best hidden away; one purpose of our work together is to shed as much light as possible on the situation.

Three people from each medium were primarily responsible for putting together the series: For KFVS, News Director Mike Beecher, Executive Producer Rod Sievers and Reporter Gwen Ellis were involved, while Editor Ken Newton, Perspective Editor Jon Rust and Staff Writer Jay Eastlick participated for the Southeast Missourian. Others with the respective organizations were eventually brought into the project.

It seldom happens that a newspaper will refer you to an evening television newscast for an additional view on a given story. It seldom happens that the television news team will call attention to a story that will appear in the following morning's newspaper edition. Both will happen this week.

It is a unique handling of an important story.

The local newspaper and the local television news team are not natural allies. Our mediums are different, our forms of presentation are distinct and our inclinations are to compete. On the whole, this autonomous relationship serves readers and viewers well; there should be independent views of the news of this region, and we will continue to embrace that independence.

However, in the case at hand, both the Southeast Missourian and KFVS saw an opportunity to address a clear and discernible problem, combine the resources of two news organizations, utilize the strengths of both mediums and produce a piece of journalism that will benefit Cape Girardeau and the region.

We carry no illusions that what we have done here has never been done before. But we remain fairly certain that it is not done often, just as we are unsure circumstances will ever conspire so that it will happen again in the future.

This project, however, will continue, possibly throughout the year. A follow-up series is planned and probably another one after that. In addition, we hope the "Zero Tolerance" effort will become a clearinghouse for information and education about drugs in this region. A telephone number is in place 1-800-455-5387 for anyone who has information that might help us tell this ongoing story.

One of the nice side benefits of this endeavor was the learning process that took place about the personalities of the individuals participating and the unique mechanics of the news outlets involved. On a normal news assignment, newspaper and television reporters observe one another in an at-arms-length manner. There is usually respect that transcends the mediums, but it is of a peripheral sort. Always, there is a desire to top the other party for a good story.

In this project, an instant camaraderie and shared sense of purpose developed. A willingness to work was apparent from the beginning, a commitment to the story was unmistakable and no egos were in evidence. The atmosphere was one of putting together a good reporting of the drug problems that damage this part of the country.

We hope readers and viewers find the series useful and enlightening.

Ken Newton is editor of the Southeast Missourian. Mike Beecher is news director of KFVS-TV News.