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Promise and power of journalism

Each year when Nevada newspapers gather for our convention and awards banquet, I’m struck by the seriousness of the issues they confronted in their communities.

It’s easy to look away and ignore the difficulties we face, but that’s not what journalists do. Instead, I see it as a sign of a vigorous community to examine what’s wrong and explore ways to fix it.

That’s called leadership, and it’s part of why we celebrate National Newspaper Week (Oct. 2-8) — because of the fundamental First Amendment belief that the more we know and discuss freely, the stronger we are as a democracy.

Here are some examples of award-winning journalism from Nevada newspapers and magazines over the past year:

■ In Las Vegas, reporter Colton Lochhead investigated abuses in the guardianship system that exposed the elderly and frail to being ripped off by the very people who were supposed to be protecting them. His series in the Las Vegas Review-Journal led to statewide reforms.

■ In Elko, the reporters of the Elko Daily Free Press took an in-depth look at the difficulties faced by its transient population and efforts by the city to solve them in a series called “Homeless but not hopeless.”

■ In Reno, stories by Anjeanette Damon in the Reno Gazette-Journal about the squalid living conditions in group homes for developmentally disabled people — including wasted tax dollars, unqualified owners and lax regulations — brought about meaningful and immediate changes.

■ In Carson City, Nevada Appeal reporter Taylor Pettaway tackled the pervasive problem of domestic violence, covering not only the effects on victims but also on their children and families.

■ On a national level, writers and editors at Carson City-based Range magazine devoted extensive coverage to issues raised by the Grass March, a coast-to-coast ride protesting government overreach and unreasonable policies on federal lands. It was led by Grant Gerber, an Elko rancher who died from an accident in Kansas before he could return home.

■ Honored by the Nevada Press Association as story of the year, Jackie Valley’s series in the Las Vegas Sun dug deep into the struggles of families with children dealing with mental-health problems.

“As I read this series,” wrote a member of the Arizona Newspapers Association, “and was introduced to multiple families struggling to keep children safe and healthy, I was reminded of a friend who is in a similar situation with her son, and I thought I should send her links to Jackie’s articles to help her remember her family isn’t alone in dealing with this.”

These stories — and more, every day — are about real people in Nevada who deserve our attention. This is the promise and the power of journalism — to shed light into the darker corners of our lives, and to provide an opportunity for some comfort and resolution.

Barry Smith is executive director of the Nevada Press Association. For more about Nevada newspapers, go to nevadapress.com.

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