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DEAR READER: Acts of kindness amid an act of evil

Saturday, December 22, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:33 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 7, 2013

Dear Reader,

Did you pick up on the plea to commit 26 random acts of kindness by way of honoring the children and adults slain in Newtown, Conn.?

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Did you add a 27th to include the assailant’s mother, who was killed in her home before this — what? Madman? Assassin? — began shooting innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School?

NBC journalist Ann Curry, who has more than a million Twitter followers, started the movement when she wrote: “@AnnCurry: Imagine if all of us committed to 20 mitvahs/acts of kindness to honor each child lost in Newtown. I'm in. If you are RT #20Acts.”

Eventually, reporters found several Columbia residents who said they were in.

It wasn’t a local story until editors decided to make it one. Early Wednesday, a half-dozen reporters were sent out to beat the streets and ask people. Others monitored social media. “TELL US,” the newspaper demanded on columbiamissourian.com, in tweets and on its Facebook page.

Before all that, a reporter asked whether they weren’t “making the news” instead of reporting it. I replied that the scenario was no different than if they dug up an investigative nugget in a pile of otherwise unremarked records or unearthed a local character worth profiling. I could have said it was no different than localizing any national story.

But what I should have said was: Yes, we’re making the news; so what?

In Washington and state capitals around the country, the debates have been joined. Legislation has been submitted. Wagons have been circled. For the most part, these are good and necessary deliberations, even if only to demonstrate the lunacy of extremism.

However, they don’t fill the need for people to connect to other humans. Even when all the facts are sifted, when all the motives and contributing factors determined, we won’t really begin to understand why this young man did such evil.

#26Acts won’t change the world. It won’t hurt, either.

Something else might help more directly: helping the families of victims.

The Missouri Press Association forwarded a letter from Newtown Bee associate editor John Voket. In it, he asked editors to direct readers to a survivors fund set up by the Newtown Savings Bank, which in turn promises to distribute 100 percent of donations to victims and their families.

Voket’s letter noted an overwhelming outpouring of support. It also “has created opportunities for scams and legitimate organizations that are taking pass-through and/or processing expenses before delivering donations.”

He suggests using the local bank. You can find information at www.nsbonline.com.

Before deciding to share the link, I checked it out. Voket was quoted in an article about how his newspaper is covering the shootings. The Newtown Bee site has scores of articles with his byline. So far as I can tell, the Newtown Savings Bank actually exists.

As one last check, I called Voket, who assured me that the donation program was legit.

He was nearly overcome. “I can’t describe …” he said, casting about for words and coming up empty. Finally: “It’s almost incomprehensible the level of support that we’re getting.” He talked about people giving money who themselves were economically disadvantaged and about the waves of people calling to ask what they could do to help.

He spoke as a citizen of a community in pain, not as a journalist on the sidelines merely watching and reporting.

He was helping his town by writing stories but also by acting as a gatekeeper and advocate for donations.

He was making news.

I tipped the barkeep 10 bucks on an $11 bill Wednesday evening. It wasn’t much. I’ll admit, though, it felt pretty good.

I don’t know whether I’ll find 25 other acts of kindness. The most important thing I can do is continue to ask good questions of my reporters and editors to help cover the search for solutions — and to find the stories that advance the discussion in our town and state.

Journalists don’t make the news, so the old saw goes; they simply report what’s out there. It’s never really been true.

Even if it was, journalists are humans, too.

“Having friends of my own who lost children,” Voket wrote, “and many more who were immediate to the incident, I can’t begin to articulate the horror this unwanted event has showered on us, but your thoughts and prayers will make a significant and positive difference.”


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