Saturday, December 18, 2010

Writing to a different beat

(This was my 'School Daze' column for Dec. 17, 1997, back when I was the education reporter.)

Got a chance, this week past, to march to a different drum -- that is, I changed ``beats'' and chased crime stories for five days. School was out, after all, and our regular police reporter, Monica Scandlen, was out-of-country for the Christmas holidays.

I actually /volunteered/ for the duty. (It seemed like a good idea at the time. Go figure.)

And the week had its brighter moments. The cops, clerks and courthouse folks all were friendly and helpful. But overall, working the police beat — while vicariously exciting — wasn't nearly as positive an experience as covering education stories.

(Those among you who wish to do so may now say, ``Duh.'')

I listened to the police radio scanner late into the night -- lots of domestic violence calls, disturbances, drunk drivers, robberies large and small.

I visited the stations each day to peruse arrest reports, checked in at the courthouse to rifle first appearance papers, and reported to the county jail to examine the log book and inmate files. I bugged the investigators and information officers, and I ran out to accident scenes.

Yes, I got the opportunity to write about the theft of a giant fiberglass Santa Claus head and the stripper who found her work clothes stolen — you don't get stories like those very often.

But I also had to write about armed robberies, the sexual abuse of a child and the arrest of three high-schoolers for making and detonating a pipe bomb.

Beyond that, there were the numerous police incident reports we don't print, but which we are obligated to read in order to determine their status. Reports of boyfriends beating girlfriends with pool cues; of unemployed women writing bad checks to pay for groceries; of teen-age shoplifters and burglars and drug abusers and vandals.

(It's enough to make you believe the bad things you read in the papers.)

But those readers who think the media is full of too much ``negative'' reporting should know that the sad truth is it's actually worse out there than you may think. Much — indeed /most/ — of the crime news goes unreported, simply because we don't have the personnel or paper to cover all of it.

Of course, on the flipside of that: much of the news about local education — both good and bad — goes unreported for the same reason.

But let me tell you, on any given day I'd rather visit a school and interview bright teen-agers about their science projects, artwork or hopes for a happy future.

I'd rather see the gleam in a little girl's eye when new books are donated to her school or when someone recognizes her hard work.

Call me an optimist, but I'd even prefer to deal with School Board members and superintendents and district staff and teachers and other people in our school system — who, in most cases, are busily working to make tomorrow's citizens a little smarter and more successful — than to deal with those people in the criminal justice system who are busy cleaning up yesterday's failures.

Having said all that, let's get back to work.
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