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A year’s work: Stories we told in 2019

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The Anniston Star's name is seen on the outside of Consolidated Publishing Co.'s Anniston headquarters.

In the course of a year, a daily news operation like The Anniston Star publishes thousands of stories. Some are just a few sentences long and take only minutes to report and write. Others take weeks of investigative work followed by careful writing and revision with the help of other writers and editors. For some stories, the only thing at stake may be a laugh; others may document the worst day of someone’s life — or their last. 

The journalists who work at The Star each have their own reasons for getting into the profession, but would likely all say the work is important. That’s true whether they comb through stacks of police reports every day, sit through school board meetings, cover football games or investigate public corruption.

Our journalists would also all say the work is often fun. We sometimes get to go places, to see things most of our readers will never experience. Meeting a fascinating person or learning something cool can be just as much a relief from the daily grind of news for the writer as it is for readers.

As the end of 2019 approached, we asked our staff to think of the most important stories they told this year, and the coolest, or at least the most interesting. Their choices, and the reasoning behind them, are below. Our photographers, meanwhile, also picked out their favorite photos of the year

All the stories we publish are written for you, our readers, and we couldn’t tell them without the support of our subscribers. If you’re one of those subscribers, you have our sincerest thanks. If you’re not among them, we offer these stories to you for free, as a sample of what you’re missing. If you’re moved to do so, we invite you to sign up at annistonstar.com/subscribe and help us bring you the important, cool and interesting stories that will define 2020.

Lisa Davis, features editor

Most important:

‘Pink Queens:' Local breast cancer survivors celebrate with a joyous photo shoot

Our annual Breast Cancer Awareness special section profiled Anniston's "Pink Queens," three women who put together a joyous photo shoot to celebrate the fact that they had all survived breast cancer. Shandrika Christopher, Temecha Williams and Jackie Judkins shared their stories to encourage other women to get regularly screened for breast cancer, and to know that it's possible to find joy in dark situations.

Coolest:

How James Spann learned to be calm in the face of the storm

I've always wanted to interview James Spann, and finally got the opportunity when he published an autobiography, "Weathering Life." I got to tell readers some things they may not have known about the state's most famous weatherman: His father walked out on the family when James was just a boy. When James was in high school, he volunteered as a ham radio operator during the tornado outbreak of 1974. He's got at least 50 pairs of suspenders. And he really wants people to learn how to find their house on a map.

Mark Edwards, sports editor

Most important:

PACKED HOUSE: JSU's new baseball stadium drawing more fans than its OVC competition

I'd say the baseball attendance at Jacksonville State’s new baseball stadium was important. Because of the money ($10.7 million) Jacksonville State spent on the stadium, we needed to report on the attendance, even though the Ohio Valley Conference doesn't compile that information like it does for basketball and football. I did my own for each school, and it's a useful story, I think.

Coolest:

Spending the day with ... Jacksonville State's Jim Case

I loved spending the day with Jim Case and got to write a fun story about it. I learned a lot and enjoyed seeing the game from the dugout.

 

 

Mia Kortright, staff writer covering crime, courts and public safety

Important:

Former Anniston pastor gets 7 years for rape, incest charges

When former pastor Del Henson was sentenced to prison for numerous sex crimes, he apologized for not being "Superman." But the only superhero in court that day was the victim, his daughter, who testified in front of him and a couple dozen of his supporters and spoke to me afterward. She provided a lot of insight into how abusers can hide in plain sight and the lengths many of them will go to keep control of their victims.

Coolest:

Sheriff’s Office hires first female chief deputy

Meeder holds titles as the Sheriff’s Office SWAT team’s first female commander and the first female captain of the office’s law enforcement division. Nearly a week ago, Meeder reached another first when she was officially hired as the county’s first female chief deputy.

It's hard to describe any of the stories I’ve written as "cool," because of the nature of what I usually cover. But I was glad to hear that Lynde Meeder was chosen as the county's first female chief deputy. On top of being a helpful and pleasant person, she's repeatedly made history at the Sheriff’s Office. 

Tim Lockette, staff writer covering the city of Anniston

Most important:

Group pushing for Ward 4 to exit Anniston

Legislative staff are drafting a bill that, if it becomes law, would allow Anniston’s Ward 4 — including Golden Springs and much of the east side — to be deannexed from the Model City, state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said Tuesday. 

Without a doubt, the story on the proposal to deannex Anniston's Ward 4 is my most important work of 2019. Anniston was once very clearly the county's urban center. Now Oxford is a close rival, in terms of population numbers. Splitting the city in two would change that dynamic even further, with plenty of downstream implications. Normally a plan like this wouldn't merit quite so much coverage — no one has yet introduced a bill yet — but the fact that the deannexation advocates are in talks with one of the most powerful figures in Montgomery makes it worth watching.

Coolest:

Five things we learned from Facebook’s archive of political ads

Picking a most interesting story was hard. It'll brighten your day to read about what Citizen of the Year Rose Munford is doing in Anniston schools. The legal battle between the McClellan Development Authority and contractor Xtreme Concepts is full of odd details about dog poop and pyrotechnics. Going into 2020, though, I think my most valuable piece from 2019 is our look into political advertising on Facebook. The take home message: all the awful rhetoric you see from politicians on Facebook is about raising money, not about convincing voters. Important to keep in mind in an election year.

Daniel Mayes, staff writer covering Jacksonville, Piedmont and Jacksonville State University

Most important:

JSU trustees terminate Beehler as president

Jacksonville State University's president was let go by its board of trustees in a meeting in October. The university is a big deal to the entire area and to the alumni of JSU across the country. A sudden change in leadership is big news for JSU prospective and current students, employees, supporters and people all over Northeast Alabama.

Coolest:

JSU student, self-taught musician gifted guitar of his dreams

It's always fun to get to write about good things happening to good people. Dylan Smith went into a Jacksonville antique shop, found an antique guitar he immediately fell in love with but could not afford, and was gifted it by an anonymous passerby. Smith's gratitude was highly visible as he retold the events and with the care he used in cleaning and playing his new (old) guitar. 

Joe Medley, sports writer

Most important:

Tayloring the future: Weaver struggles, but focuses on bigger picture

A high school used to winning goes dry on talent, exacerbating a social backdrop that greets an energetic new coach looking to bring culture change. Used to winning as a player then assistant coach, Justin Taylor must temporarily adjust his thinking about what winning means as rock bottom exceeds expectations.

Coolest:

'LIKE A DREAM': JSU's Harris making most of hard-won scholarship

In a bad-news season for Jacksonville State, good news comes in the form of a walkon who earned a scholarship then lived one shining moment on the field. Meanwhile, the family back home, who took on extra jobs to help pay their son's college bills until he earned a scholarship, get to just enjoy his successes.

Ben Nunnally, assistant metro editor and staff writer covering Oxford

Most important: 

Calhoun County foster kids outnumber available housing 10-to-1

The Calhoun County foster care system is overloaded with 314 kids and only 34 homes to serve them, according to Linda Bibb, the organization’s director. About 80 are over the age of 14, which makes them harder to place and the chances of adoption more slim.

It's tough to whittle a year of work down to one story that's most important, but by my estimation this story — about the huge imbalance between the large population of kids in Calhoun County's foster care system and the few households available to care for them — may mean the most. So many children stay in the state's foster system until they're adults, and the uncertainty and impermanence of that life carries over into adulthood. If we can help these kids now, we might help ourselves in the future. 

Coolest: 

Woman rescued by helicopter 17 hours after parkway crash

I wouldn't call the events of this story cool — a woman's SUV went off of Veterans Memorial Parkway heading south from Oxford, and she spent the night waiting for rescuers to find her — but covering the community's response to the accident was a rush. I got the call to head to the wreck site while I was working from home that morning, and I arrived before police closed off both sides of the highway. Our photographers couldn't get to the scene, thanks to unlucky timing, but I'd packed my own camera, and I got to photograph police searching for the woman, a state trooper dangling from a helicopter to retrieve her and her eventual airlift to Birmingham for hospital care. We cover a lot of things after they happen, but it's a different experience being in the thick of it. 

Bill Wilson, staff writer covering Cleburne County 

Most important:

Stench has some Cleburne residents crying foul

This was a situation where county residents had to deal with a smelly sewage-dumping facility in their neighborhood. Eventually the facility was closed after public meetings and other stories. The facility had a water well located too close to the boundary of the facility.  The owner decided to close it because the area to dump the sewage was too small after a new boundary was in effect. 

Coolest: 

Micaville Memories: The history of an Alabama mining town

A look at the "mica men" of Cleburne County and the mineral that is abundant in the southern part of the county.

Managing Editor Ben Cunningham: 256-235-3541. On Twitter @Cunningham_Star.

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