The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 8, 2014

Murray: Giving thanks for good stories


The Mankato Free Press

---- — Don’t let the photo that runs along with my column fool you.

As much as my behavior may suggest otherwise, I am not young. I’ve been at The Free Press since Sept. 11, 1995, and I’ve got the gray hair to prove it. In that time I’ve covered everything. I spent seven years covering the police beat, another seven covering higher education, briefly covered entertainment, have been the back-up reporter for K-12 schools. I’ve covered city and county government issues, visited the Capitol to talk to lawmakers.

Nothing, though, has been as rewarding as covering health care.

When a reporter takes a new beat, they get a little time to sort of carve out their own way of covering it. And when we decided I’d be starting a beat called “health and wellness,” I wondered what I’d be able to make of it.

What happened is that I approached things the way I always have: light on process, procedures and policies, heavy on human stories.

Just in the last few months the kinds of stories that have come across my desk have been nothing short of astounding.

The other day I met a young man who, with his best years ahead of him, learned he had bone cancer. I sat down with him and his mother as they told me about the heartbreak in hearing that diagnosis. The young man’s story was one of triumph, though, as he is now happy and cancer free. Also, by now he’s busy going through the haul he made on his Make-A-Wish Foundation shopping spree at the Mall of America.

A couple of weeks ago I interviewed a woman who had just lost her son to cancer. They’d planned a benefit to help him, but he didn’t made it that far. Undeterred, mom decided to go ahead with the benefit anyway. Hearing her talk about her son that day was something I’ll never forget. I sat there with the phone lodged between my ear and shoulder feverishly transcribing her every word. Those awkward silences she heard were me struggling to hold it together, having just heard her describe what it was like to watch her boy die.

About a month ago, I sat at the dining room table of a family who has been through a lot regarding the premature birth of one of the daughters. That struggle, though, has turned into something positive. The mom has turned the challenges and all the lessons she’s learned through the ordeal into a book she hopes will serve as a guide for other parents going through the same thing.

And more than a year ago I met a woman who needed a kidney transplant to survive. After documenting her struggle, another woman who read about it stepped forward to give her one. I got to write that story, too, just a few weeks ago. Like so many other stories I’ve gotten to tell, it reminded me of the power of human kindness and how it can turn strangers into soul mates.

There have been dozens of others. So many compelling stories. And not just stories told to me. Our entire staff, most of whom have been here a long time, are gifted storytellers.

I guess my point with all this is to just say that, especially lately, I feel really lucky that so many of you have shared your stories with me. Journalists don’t always have the best reputation. (And we at The Free Press newsroom are aware that there are too many typos. We’re trying, folks. I’m glad that hasn’t prevented people from being willing to share with us.)

Our publisher invited me to come speak to his media class the other day. Whenever I talk to a class of some kind, there’s usually someone who asks what the best part of my job is. What I usually say is that, despite the poor pay, I have one of the best jobs out there. I get to meet someone new just about every day. And because I’m holding a notebook and pencil, they tell me their stories.

So keep sharing them, folks. I — and the rest of the staff — will keep listening.

Staff writer Robb Murray can be reached at rmurray@mankatofreepress.com or 344-6386.