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Recharged by best in journalism
The best journalism can be a breathtaking force for good


Date published: 2/22/2006

By ED JONES

ALL I NEED are a couple of steps back from the day-to- day hurly-burly of putting out a newspaper to rediscover why I love journalism so much.

At its best, journalism is a breathtaking force for good.

Last week in St. Petersburg, Fla., I had the chance to take a peek at 2005's best of the best as a judge for the annual American Society of Newspaper Editors awards.

Despite the travails of travel these days (no parking spaces at Washington Reagan National Airport, a canceled flight thanks to a banged-up cargo door, and a much-delayed drive home into Mixing Bowl construction), my judging stint gave me a booster shot of new admiration for journalists across the nation.

Here are some of the reasons why:

A Plain Dealer editor in Cleveland couldn't understand how a man could be sentenced to death when there was virtually no concrete evidence that he had committed the crime.

After a yearlong investigation by the paper, the execution was delayed three times--and now, may never happen.

The Los Angeles Times chronicled how some court-appointed guardians in California were running roughshod over the finances of the people they were supposed to be protecting.

As a result, the California legislature tightened oversight of the guardian program, improved training and created a new office to investigate complaints.

The small-city Sun Herald of Biloxi, Miss., threw all of its resources into covering Katrina, a hurricane that hit its shores with unimaginable fury.

From a makeshift newsroom on the day the storm hit, a team of reporters wrote:

"Hurricane Katrina devastated South Mississippi Monday with a force not seen since Camille 36 years ago, sweeping aside multimillion-dollar casinos, burying the beach highway and killing at least 50 people in Harrison County.

"'This,' said Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway, 'is our tsunami.'"

In a hard-hitting editorial campaign, The Oregonian in Portland detailed the scandalous condition of a state psychiatric facility once used in the filming of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." The paper directed its findings at the state's highest elected official:

"Governor, take the 200-foot-long walk through the maximum security ward for the most violent of the state's criminally insane. This bleak stretch of dark cells built more than a century ago is more frightening--and more inhumane--than any place still in use in Oregon's prisons.

"And this is called a hospital."

After the series appeared, long-stalled legislative reforms for mental-health treatment were approved.

The most eye-catching entry came from Mike Trimble, the opinion editor of the Denton (Texas) Record-Chronicle, who's not in the habit of mincing his words.

Reacting to Gov. Rick Perry's suggestion that homosexual war veterans from Iraq should move to some "more lenient" state, Trimble reasoned:

"We do not want our governor to be a bigot. We fervently hope he just said something stupid again. We can live with stupid."

ED JONES is editor of The Free Lance-Star. He can be reached at
Email: edjones@freelancestar.com or at 540/374-5401.