As longtime readers know, I worked as a staff editorial writer and columnist for the Seattle Times several years ago. It was a strange, sometimes exasperating, but fruitful experience serving as the lone right-winger on a statist/center-left editorial board. Since leaving, I’ve had fun razzing the paper from time to time. But the newsroom has always had its share of talented reporters and editors. I still check the Times website every day. For the last several months, I’ve followed an extraordinary series by reporter Jerry Brewer and photographer Steve Ringman about a little girl named Gloria Strauss battling neuroblastoma. The series is about family, community, pain, endurance, and, above all, faith.
Here’s the latest installment. Scroll down for links to every part of the series, plus reporter’s journal entries and multimedia galleries. If you have the time, take the time to start from the beginning and read all the way through.
Gloria’s family blog is here.
Those of you in the Pacific Northwest won’t be surprised to learn that some Times’ readers have complained about the focus on the family’s daily prayer vigils and reliance on faith to get them through hard times. Editor Mike Fancher writes:
Given how personal this assignment has become, I felt I should ask Brewer and Ringman whether their own faith has affected or been affected by the story.
Brewer said his grandfather is a Baptist preacher and he grew up in a very spiritual family. “It’s still a factor in my life. It helps me feel the story. You’ve got to feel it.”
Brewer said that when the Strauss family prays, “I know the Bible passage they recite and what they mean.” But the Strauss family is Catholic. “We’re both Christians, but it’s a lot different,” he said.
Ringman said that he has not been a very spiritual person, but the story “opens an opportunity to feel God. It’s very moving and I’m surprised by that.”
A few readers have objected to the centrality of faith in the story. Brewer responds that many families use faith to help them through illness, but “very few newspapers have documented this feeling — religion, if you will — that is very strong and moving within lots of suffering families. By presenting what this family believes and focusing on it, I’m simply putting a mirror on them.”
His online journal is personal, but the stories that appear in the newspaper are told in an unbiased way with very little filtering, he wrote to one reader. “You’re left to make your own conclusions, and if you decide it’s bogus, that is perfectly fine.”
Brewer said he tries to focus on the universal elements of Gloria’s story. He added that one reader commented that what the Strauss family calls faith, that reader calls love.
Both Ringman and Brewer said they have been changed by this assignment.
“Problems seem insignificant compared to what I’ve witnessed in the Strauss family,” Ringman said. “My perspective on life really has changed, spiritually and even materially — love and our children are much more important.”
Brewer answered, “What hasn’t this story changed about my life? It’s literally changed everything. I’m a better man and a better journalist, and I realize even more so that the man comes before the journalist.
“Gloria’s life has an amazing integrity and authenticity to it, and that’s what I seek. In everything. I want to do things that really matter in life, especially connecting better with the people I love. I want to strengthen my own faith. And I want tell more stories like this that really affect the community in a heartfelt manner.
Religion is often treated with such condescension in the press. The Times deserves praise and recognition for its commitment to cover the life, heart, and soul of Gloria and the Strauss family. This is a local newspaper at its best.