Finding our way to actual solutions

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By Doug Bell

Readers might be wondering why this week’s Courier has no stories with local reaction to the massacre in Newtown, Conn. — and that’s a fair question.

I’ll keep my answer simple and my words plain: I’ve come to believe that summoning the ghosts of Columbine High and Deer Creek Middle School every time a mass shooting occurs is misleading at best and exploitive at its worst.
The breathless rush to find local angles in the wake of these tragedies too often lets community leaders and politicians grab air time while failing to demonstrate any meaningful leadership at all.
Whatever led two mentally unbalanced teenagers to massacre 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999 seems unlikely to have anything in common with the motives of the deranged gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week.
The two obvious similarities — mental illness and easy access to assault weapons and the high-capacity magazines that turn them into killing machines — never seem to find their way into the “local reaction.”
When our local leaders find the courage to address either the need for better mental health treatment or stringent controls on assault weapons and ammunition, we’ll be the first to write a story. Until then, we won’t focus coverage on phantom parallels that let us all avoid the difficult debate that must take place in order to find actual solutions.

An overdue thanks
About seven years ago, a former publisher of these newspapers, Brad Bradberry, phoned me at my office at Metropolitan State College.
“I hear you hate your job,” said Brad, who was never one to approach any subject delicately. “Want to be my editor?”
It was not a question I could answer immediately; it required about five seconds.
“How soon can I start?”
Brad actually knew long before I did that a lifelong journalist (I first angered a reader in junior high) and teacher (some of my early students at Metro State were older than I was) would never be happy in the administrative job I had taken in the summer of that year.
Brad could read people like the rest of us read books, and he usually had divined the story’s ending long before the characters themselves did. In my case, others told him repeatedly that a big-city journalist would never be happy at a group of small community newspapers, and that his newest editor would be a former editor before he could turn around.
Many of the groups and governments we cover — from the county to the fire districts to just about everyone else — apparently believed the same thing: That a hard-news focus in community newspapers would inevitably recede as the new editor looked for bigger and greener pastures.
Yet Brad had a feeling I would stick. What he didn’t know was that, in the universe’s never-ending quest to supply all of us with heartbreaking irony, cancer would take his life just two years after we began working together.
Brad would have been sporting a wide smile this morning, though, when four e-mails informed me that the news room at Evergreen Newspapers captured 31 awards in the 2012 Colorado Press Association contest. And while that staggering number is first and foremost a tribute to our reporters and photo editor and sports editor and page designers, it’s also a tribute to Brad Bradberry, whose faith in our mission, our shared vision and my game plan never wavered amid the scoffing of the early skeptics.
So while I want to thank my peerless staff for this terrific accomplishment, I also want to thank Brad for making that long-ago phone call. Brad, old friend, no one is scoffing at us today.

Doug Bell is still the editor of Evergreen Newspapers.