Sunday, December 12, 2004

One of the most difficult decision facing newspaper editors is deciding whose deaths merit page-one articles.
While I was at The Carthage Press and The Lamar Democrat, I ran a number of deaths on page one. The end of someone's life is news. Sometimes the news came as a shock. Stories about teenagers and children who meet untimely deaths are always page-one material. I remember doing stories about Edna Volskay, a Carthage High School graduate who died of leukemia, Doug Ringler, the eight-year-old Carthage boy who was murdered 10 years ago, Kelli Dorsey, the Diamond High School athlete who died in November 1994, and a young Lockwood football player who killed himself in 1995.
Sometimes it was people in the prime of their lives, who died of illness or in accidents. The late Peggy Hillman of Lamar comes to mind.
But having worked at two newspapers in communities in which history is revered, I found myself spending a lot of time working on feature stories about people who were living in retirement after living lives filled with accomplishments. That list would include such people as Congressman Gene Taylor from Sarcoxie, former Lamar Democrat business manager Stan White, Richard Webster, Robert Ellis Young, and others.
If someone who had played a huge role in the Lamar community died, even if that person had not played a role in public affairs for years, that person merited a page one obituary. The same held true for Carthage citizens when I was at The Carthage Press.
I still haven't figured out what it takes to get a page-one story in The Neosho Daily News. Today's Daily featured a page-two obituary of Colonel Jack Cornett. Col. Cornett was a former mayor of Neosho, a former city councilman, a long-time businessman, a former Library Board member who was instrumental in the move to the present library site, a former teacher at Crowder College, and a 37-year Army veteran who, according to the obituary, "participated in the D-Day invasion of France on June 6, 1944, as a battalion commander parachuting into Normandy with the 101st Airborne Division. He was awarded the Silver Star for valor and the Purple Heart for wounds received during the Normandy fighting." He also received the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, Combat Infantry Badge and the Master Parachutist Badge.
Newspapers have only one chance to get the death of a prominent individual right. I wrote a few weeks ago about how The Joplin Globe botched its coverage of the death of long-time reporter Gary Garton. I have written about how I felt the coverage of Tom O'Sullivan's death was mishandled by The Lamar Democrat.
The Neosho Daily News blew its chance to pay the proper tribute to Colonel Cornett.

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