Silence can be one of the greatest threats to any community.

When something goes terribly wrong, we rely on those in authority to keep us informed and to reassure us that, regardless of the event, steps are being taken to ensure safety, or justice or resolution.

When that doesn’t happen, we rely on the media.

The Missourian has been working with a courageous east Missouri weekly newspaper that has embraced that responsibility.

The Edina Sentinel published a sensitive investigative report Friday that exposes alleged acts of horrific bullying in the local school and which allows for a real, painful community conversation to begin.

The Sentinel had to do it because those in authority would not.

Missourian reporter Anna Brett has been working with Echo Menges, reporter and editor for the Sentinel. Through Menges’ extensive ties to the community, she has been able to unearth details of the incident and to give voice to parents and others whose fear has only been magnified by the official silence.

Brett has examined the secrecy that enveloped Edina, and the personal toll it has taken on Menges and publisher Mike Scott, who agonized over every decision as they worked to fulfill fundamental roles of any newspaper: giving voice to the voiceless and shining light on community problems.

Together, the two articles published jointly provide insight and an essential window into what bullying and violence can do to a community when those in authority attempt to deal with the problem in the shadows.

They also illustrate the vital importance of community journalism.

It takes courage and commitment for any journalist to undertake an investigative project — even for those who work in the relative anonymity of a big city with the support of a large organization.

Doing investigative work in a small community takes something more: a willingness to lose friends, be publicly shunned, lose subscribers and advertisers, face threats, suffer verbal abuse — and worse. And to have nowhere to hide.

These journalists expose problems that plague their communities because often nothing will improve unless they, personally, do something about it.

The blessing and curse of the small-community reporter is clear in what Menges told Brett:

“I would say that I have an advantage to be able to tell the story because I’m on the ground here,” she said, “and that’s the double-edged sword.”

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