Over the course of the years that I’ve been in the newspaper business, I have become more and more of a believer in the power of community journalism. No other news source is covering Grandview and South Kansas City like we do. I believe that wholeheartedly. We have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to bring our readers the good news and the bad news as it unfolds.
I’m not the source of the news. I don’t make it up, and I don’t print only what I want. If there’s bad news, I write about it. I have had my integrity questioned, my faith and morals challenged and my heart broken by readers’ reactions to stories I have penned. Stories that if they had gone unwritten, a certain disservice to the community would have fallen on my shoulders.
Most times, however, the things and people we write about are positive. I have met so many people in this community who have changed me for the better, who have helped develop me into the person and writer that I am today. To all those people, I am eternally grateful.
As I was preparing to write my column on National Newspaper Week early Monday morning, I tried to think of how I could tie in the fact that National Fire Prevention Week happens to fall at the same time. Right around the time this crossed my mind, I heard sirens. Not just the normal police car or ambulance siren, either. This was something major and I immediately knew I had a job to do.
I rushed out of my office door and saw smoke to the west. Something was surely burning. I quickly grabbed my camera and headed behind the emergency vehicles to what would become a horrific scene. Between the mayday calls, an injured fireman and the body of a victim, it can be hard to keep one’s emotions in check. I got some amazing photos despite the lump in my throat and the pure adrenaline that is felt when covering things like this.
That afternoon and evening, I pored through the 400+ photos I took throughout the ordeal. Some showed complete heroism, while others showed complete devastation. This, I thought, is why community journalism is still relevant. Sure, there were television news stations there covering the event. But, I was there first. I followed our guys; guys I know by name, down to the flames. I said a prayer as a captain from our department was taken away by ambulance. And tears fell as I learned of the resident who didn’t make it out.
Monday night, I went home to my quiet apartment in Grandview. With a roof over my head and a blanket to cover up in, I tried to sleep. Each time I closed my eyes, sights and sounds of the day kept me awake. As a journalist, it’s important to stay focused on the job at hand, despite personal ties or feelings. That’s probably, for me, the most difficult part of the job when covering breaking news in my hometown.
I don’t think I have to explain why I feel this newspaper is important to this community. The names in the bylines celebrate with you our accomplishments just as we mourn with you our losses. We don’t just breeze through when something big happens. We live here and we are invested in the people here. We love this community, and more importantly, we love what we do.
I also don’t think an explanation is necessary on why fire prevention can help save lives. The key message of this year’s Fire Prevention Week campaign, October 4 through 10, is to install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area and on every level of your home, including the basement. Smoke alarms save lives.
I’m lucky to be a part of a community of people and businesses that understand the importance of this newspaper. I take this job seriously and sincerely love what I do. Thank you for your continued readership and support.
Mary Wilson, editor of the Jackson County Advocate newspaper, grew up in the Grandview, Missouri community. She volunteers her time with many local organizations. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on twitter @MWilsonJCA.