Editorial page writer Sharon Hendrix rarely throws anything out. So before retiring last month after a stellar career of 35 years at the Journal, she had to sort through piles of old files, clippings and correspondence. Among that stuff, she found a few gems.
One was a memo to the staff from now-deceased editor Gerald Crawford, written in 1991.
Crawford’s memo acknowledged the Journal did not have a short, pithy “mission statement” (and still doesn’t). Instead, over four pages he outlined aspirations and goals. He wrote that at the Journal, “we retain the responsibility to give our readers the information they need – that which informs about government and the events which affect their lives, along with that which entertains, educates and helps readers to cope in a complex society.”
While his prose is more formal than what you see in staff inboxes today, he includes key words that we still stand by.
The Journal is a for-profit organization, but foremost in our minds is the word “responsibility” – a responsibility to inform New Mexicans and focus on what “affects their lives.” We often do it by writing individuals’ stories, and through their stories we hope to shine a light on bigger problems or offer inspiration.
Take Shawnna Boyd, whom law enforcement calls a “frequent flyer” due to the more than 100 calls she has made to 911, often threatening suicide. “I don’t know what she needs, but I know she needs something that she is absolutely not getting,” says her mother, Kathy Boyd.
Journal reporter Elise Kaplan and photographer Roberto Rosales spent time at the Boyd home as mother and daughter told their frustrating and all-too-familiar story. The 37-year-old Shawnna has struggled for years with mental and behavioral health problems.
Talk about a revolving door. When police answer her 911 calls, she is often taken to a hospital and then released. When she runs away, she frequently goes into traffic and has caused at least one crash. Other times, police respond to some type of disturbance she has created, then she ends up in jail.
It’s been recommended she attend a facility in Texas, but insurance through Medicaid won’t cover it. Kaplan talked to myriad folks familiar with Shawnna’s case – but no immediate solution presents itself.
Unfortunately, that’s often the case. And one of the state’s biggest issues in search of a solution is crime. The Journal team has produced dozens of important stories reporting stats and quoting officials. But the memorable stories are often those that put faces – both victims’ and suspects’ – to these troubling stats.
One recent example is Sihui Fang, who grew up in an impoverished Chinese village and became a successful entrepreneur in Albuquerque, owning her own massage spa. Journal reporter Matthew Reisen pieced together her final minutes – through interviews and records – before the 45-year-old was shot to death by two apparent armed robbers. Reisen told readers how Fang had come to the United States in her early 20s and at the time of her death owned a home and a successful business. “She was exceptional in every way,” says a good friend.
Again, no obvious solutions. But we believe the first step is shining a light on a problem – and what better way to do that than telling New Mexicans’ stories?
Of course not all of our stories are tragic. Capitol bureau reporter Dan McKay provided an upbeat glimpse into a state legislator – Rep. Javier Martínez – who suddenly found himself in a leadership role. Originally from El Paso and Juárez, Martínez’s family moved to Albuquerque when he was 7. He spoke little English at the time. Fast forward 40 years. He recently became House Majority Leader, and colleagues from both sides of the aisle credit him with being a good listener and honest broker. Again, it was putting a face on the 112 lawmakers who are spending this month crafting our state budget and addressing critical issues. (Go to abqjournal.com/legislature for full coverage by our Capitol team.)
More than 20 years ago, editor Jerry Crawford also wrote, “We must improve the Journal’s reputation as a newspaper that knows and is in touch with the community.”
It would be unrealistic for us to believe we can understand or walk in the shoes of all New Mexicans. But I hope these few examples of our reporters’ strong work are the type of journalism Jerry was referring to – and which we are proud to produce.
Again, let me know if you have suggestions, feedback or just some basic gripes. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please add the word “comments” as part of the subject line to ensure it does not get lost.
Until next month.
Karen Moses is editor and senior vice president of Journal Publishing Co.