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Once Upon A Time, There Was A Little Girl

There’s one question that anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom has heard at least once in a career:

“Why did you put THAT in the newspaper?”

Usually, the comment is about a story that has no interest to the reader — for reasons of cultural, political or regional bias. More recently, it’s because of some perceived slant in the reporting ... which actually boils down to how brainwashed the reader has become by the propaganda spewed by their favored radio, television or online commentators.

The smart-aleck response to the “Why” question is to say that if we hadn’t run such-and-such story, there’d be an empty space where something should be, and it would just look weird.

The professional-avoidance response carries a bit more truth: That if you (the reader) find yourself questioning why we used space to carry a certain story, remember that there are dozens of others from across the country at our disposal on any given day ... and (trust me on this) you wouldn’t want to read those.

More rare, though, is when we in the newsroom ask the question of ourselves. And that happened to me this week.

On Wednesday night, it was among my duties to select and present the stories that would fill the Nation & World pages in Thursday’s paper. As I said, I had dozens of stories to choose from — most related to the “hot topic” issues of the day; others fell into the category of “We realize it’s boring, but we’re the paper of record, and therefore must acknowledge our responsibility to, well, record it.”

And, of course, some things are just too wonderful not to share — in this case, if some jamoke sticks his finger where it shouldn’t go in an airplane seat, it would be just wrong of us not to tell you about so we can mock him in unison when he decides to sue.

Then there’s Florida ... where enough happens each day that our reporters could take the day off (don’t get any fancy ideas, Nick) and we’d still have stories left over.

But on Wednesday night, as I was choosing the six to eight stories to present to you, I kept coming back to the same one.

The suicide of a girl in Linden, Alabama.

A 9-year-old girl.

The story was listed near the bottom of the fourth or fifth page of the wire story budget we produce each day. It might have been mentioned in our daily meeting to choose the out-of-town stories for the front page. It could easily have been left out of the paper and we could have continued our pre-Christmas planning none the wiser.

In all honesty, that was my first impulse. Allow a tragedy 2,512 miles away from the Rogue Valley to be sorted out back in Linden; let the grieving process continue and the “facts” of the situation come to light without having our readers left to wonder what had happened.

And then I read the response of the Demopolis City Schools board — which essentially decided to cover its financial assets and say that while the family said it was racial hatred and online bullying that led McKenzie Adams to hang herself, school officials could find no evidence of complaints about such behavior.

You know, the “we didn’t hear about it, so who knows if it happened and (more importantly, but don’t tell anyone) we can’t be held liable for damages” defense.

The National Center for Education Statistics says that bullying might actually be on the decline. How did it arrive at this conclusion? Through data collecting, of course. Bullying accusations in schools dropped for 2017 — so, obviously, fewer reports equals less bullying.

Right?

If I wrote my response to hearing that line of thinking, it would have to be censored ... but I might qualify for Oregon’s bovine manure tax credit.

Suicide, most stemming from some sort of intimidation or degradation, is now the second-leading cause of death among children age 10-14. The figures for those younger than 10 haven’t been as easy to track — but anecdotal evidence through an internet search reveals at least two other 9-year-old victims in the past six months.

There are more numbers to throw around ... but McKenzie Adams shouldn’t be remembered as a statistic. Nor should Jamel Myles, or Madison Whitsett, or any others whose names don’t immediately pop up on a search engine.

Health care professionals and those who work with troubled children would point out that being tormented by peers alone should not be considered the sole reason someone so young and vulnerable would choose to leave this Earth.

They’re right, of course, and that all the warning signs should be monitored and the proper help sought. But anyone who has ever been a child could tell you that being a target for humiliation is a tremendous struggle for a developing mind and psyche.

And that’s how the tragic fate of 9-year-old McKenzie Adams found its way onto the Nation & World pages of the Mail Tribune this past week.

Why did we put THAT in the newspaper?

Because, 2,512 miles away from Linden, Alabama, we are not immune to bullying.

And there are 9-year-olds who live here, too.

Mail Tribune columnist Robert Galvin can be reached at rgalvin@rosebudmedia.com

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