When I was wire editor at The News & Observer, the managing editor suggested that we needed more “ray of hope” stories on the front page. Her request came in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and amid the Afghanistan war and anthrax mailings. It was a grim time.
Over the weekend, I thought of the need for a “ray of hope.” On the national scene, the news has been consumed lately with the Jerry Sandusky scandal and a massacre at a movie theater in Colorado. Locally, we’ve seen several drownings in North Carolina lakes and rivers as well as wrong-way drivers on Raleigh’s Beltline, among other bleak events.
Where is the ray of hope today? Curiously, it’s in a story about a noteworthy death. Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, died Monday of cancer. Her passing, at the relatively young age of 61, is undeniably sad. But her life story is one of hopes fulfilled.
As detailed in this New York Times obit, Ride set a goal, worked hard and overcame obstacles (including sexist questions from the news media) to make history as a part of the space shuttle program. She served as a wonderful example for girls interested in careers in science and education.
Despite the inspirational nature of her story, Ride’s obituary didn’t appear on the front pages of as many newspapers as I would have expected. Instead, readers of Tuesday’s newspapers were presented with incremental developments in the Colorado killings and news about Penn State football that broke nearly 24 hours earlier.
Instead, Ride was reduced to a promo on many front pages. One of those papers, oddly, was the Orlando Sentinel, which is in NASA’s backyard.
The Ride obit didn’t run on the front page of The News & Observer either, though the Raleigh paper had its own “ray of hope” story with a local angle. The Charlotte Observer played it just right, running the New York Times obit at the bottom of the front page.
As editors, we can look for rays of hope in unexpected places — even in the obituaries. It’s unfortunate that many newspapers missed this opportunity with Sally Ride.
But there are other people like her, whose stories inspire us all. Let’s not overlook them amid the machinations of covering politics and mayhem.