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  • Last modified 146 days ago (Jan. 18, 2024)

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A hero resides within all of us

Walter Cronkite. Bob Wood-ward. Marty Baron — you know, the guy from “Spotlight.” Charles Kuralt. Jim Lehrer. Cokie Roberts. The Marion County Record.

The Marion County Record? The mere thought of joining such a prominent pantheon of journalism luminaries by winning this year’s William Allen White Foundation National Citation came as much of a shock to us as the huge snow-flakes that fell last week were to my cat, Zenger.

Only 6 months old, he’d seen snow before, but never with such flaccidly floating flakes, silently beckoning to be batted by paws confined to the safety and warmth of the other side of a patio door.

Curiosity being the calling card of any cat — or journalist, like the one for which he is named — Zenger immediately ran to another window to get a better view. Finding now-familiar flakes there, too, he darted to a third. It was a veritable invasion, and he became even more hyperactively puzzled than is normal for a 6-month-old kitten.

We had similar feline-like feelings upon learning of the award last week. We even were a bit disappointed. As regular attendees at William Allen White Day, we were looking forward to the rare opportunity of being able to hob-knob with a particular award-winning journalist we had hoped would win this year’s award.

However, we’re told the vote wasn’t even close. We’re some-how heroes because a bunch of less-heroic people tried but failed to intimidate us about the time Zenger was born.

Heroes? Not us. Well, at least, not me. The staff has been heroic in many regards. We were looking to hire a person before we were raided. The job’s still vacant. But now we have another vacancy — a reporter who couldn’t take the stress of having to deal routinely with people still in the community who could have stopped the raid. And, of course, we also lost Joan Meyer, who continued to help one day a week.

It was easy enough to produce our first “Seized . . . but not silenced” issue. A couple of all-nighters were fueled by adrenalin alone. All we were doing was what we always did — reporting the news as best we could. But as weeks stretched to months with staffing continuing to be thin and answers to questions still not forthcoming from inscrutable investigators and officials like those at the KBI, it’s been tough for people like Phyllis Zorn and Cheri Bentz to carry on. Yet carry on they have.

They may not be the same type of heroes as the dozens of firefighters who spent nearly all day Monday battling a blaze that consumed a Lincolnville house in zero-degree weather or as the passerby who helped free and rushed to a hospital a snowplow operator injured when a blade came down on his head that same day. But their dedication demonstrates that there are many ways to be heroic.

As no less a philosopher than Bob Dylan put it, a hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom. Or, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, a hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer. Christopher Reeve defined a hero as an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure despite over-whelming obstacles. Romain Rolland put it more simply: A hero is a man who does what he can.

Andrew Vachss was more specific. “Journalism is the protection between people and any sort of totalitarian rule,” he wrote. “That’s why my hero, admittedly a flawed one, is a journalist.”

But it doesn’t have to be a journalist. It can be any citizen willing to ask questions, to demand answers, and to become involved in the affairs of his or her community rather than cocooning in the comfort of social media echo chambers. Heroes are all around us. They just have to step forward and be recognized.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Jan. 18, 2024

 

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