During my 12 years as editor of The Monitor one of the things I learned was that it seemed that whenever there was an announcement from the Defense Department that three or more US service men and/or wormen were killed at one time -- whether in combat or in an accident -- at least one of them would very likely be from the Rio Grande Valley.
And when that happened, we always got the news staff moving very quickly to localize the story by contacting any local family members, friends, former teachers, ministers, priests, anyone local who could help us put a human face on the tragic death of Valley native killed while serving his or her country. The staff would update the story online throughout the day and for the morning print edition would usually craft and excellent profile of the deceased service person with photos of family and friends, etc.
After a while, particularly as the death tolls mounted in Iraq and Afghanistan, the staff's quick reaction became almost automatic and The Monitor's reporters and photographers produced some outstanding -- an in many instances award winning, well read and greatly appreciated by the community -- work detailing the lives of servicemen and servicewomen who had sacrificed all for their country.
I think every member of the staff felt it was the right thing for us to do to honor the local fallen members of our armed forces for what they had done for us.
I fully expected this tradition -- which is followed by many American newspapers -- would continue because it is expected by and respected by the local community. It is just one of the ways a local newspaper keeps faith with its readers.
I have, however, been quite dismayed with the way my former newspaper has thus far handled the death of Petty Officer Hernandez.
Sunday evening -- several hours after the U.S. Department of Defense put out a news release giving the names and hometowns of those killed aboard the USS Fitzgerald -- The Monitor, under the headline "Navy: Weslaco man among 7 killed aboard USS Fitzgerald," posted an Associated Press story online that read, in it entirety:
YOKOSUKA, Japan (AP) — The U.S. Navy says a 26-ear-old Weslaco man is among the seven sailors who died in a collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship off Japan on Saturday.
Apparently, someone at least thought to rewrite the lead so that it emphasized the fact that one of the dead was a local man. However, the person who handled the rewrite committed an uncorrected typographical error saying Petty Office Hernandez was a "26-ear-old." Whatsmore, the rewrite failed to give his name in the lead. That was left for the list that followed and even then Hernandez's name was left at the No. 4 spot on the list.
Even KRGV TV-5 did a better job with it's online story, posting this:
Weslaco - The U.S. Navy has confirmed a Weslaco native was killed when a ship container off the coast of Japan hit the U.S.S. Fitzgerald.
At least in it's online story, Channel 5 didn't bury Hernandez' name half way down on a list of people from elsewhere and it appears that someone from the TV station at least made the effort to actually talk to a Navy spokesperson
There was a story on the front page of The Monitor's print edition this moring under the one-column headline:
7 sailors who
died on USS
But no one bothered to rewrite the AP lead to reflect that a local man was among the dead. Despite the headline, the interesting local angle on the Fitzgerald story was left until 8 to 10 column inches into the story (in the eight paragraph which appeared on the inside "jump" page). The subject of the lead was the mother of one of the surviving sailors who was from Raleigh, N.C.
It has now (10:40 CDT) been about 14 hours since The Monitor's online story was posted and, as yet, no attempt has been made to update it, not even to correct the "26-EAR-old" typo.
This makes me wonder if anyone on the news staff is busy working to profile Petty Officer Hernandez to update The Monitor's online presence today or even a for tomorrow morning's print edition.
This is not a good exampe of keeping faith with the readers and if a newspaper does not keep faith with its readers, it can hardly expect readers to keep faith with it -- this explains, at least in part, why the circulation of many newspapers is in decline. I've said if before and I still believe it to be true: Newspapers are not so much dying as they are committing suicide.