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Twenty years later: Taking pride in our newspaper's tribute to a fallen hero

The front cover of The Record-Herald special edition in memory of Chris Street.Chris Street was killed in a car accident 20 years ago this week.

It was shocking news to Iowans and to fans of the University of Iowa Hawkeye basketball program, to lose a young, rising star, who was only a junior and only 20 years old.

It was even more devastating to those of us who at the time lived in Indianola, where Street went to high school and where his parents still lived.

I was a reporter at the weekly paper in Indianola in 1993, The Record-Herald and Indianola Tribune. Late on the night of Tuesday, Jan. 19, I got a startling phone call from Amy Duncan, my editor, telling me the unbelievable news.

We felt powerless. Of course, anytime someone dies so young and tragically, you feel powerless. But we were selfishly powerless, too. Only hours earlier, we had put out our weekly edition of the paper. We worked late Monday night putting it together and then Tuesday, helped the press team print it up and push it out the door to the post office, where it would be delivered to subscribers’ mailboxes on Wednesday. There was no way to recall the paper and no feasible way to get another edition out right away. Now, readers would be receiving a newspaper on Wednesday that would not contain the community’s most important story. And we would not be able to address it in our paper for another week.

The inside two pages of the section featured a photo layout and a timeline of Chris' life.This was before the internet age. There was no way at the time for us to get on the web to update our newspaper’s online edition to include this breaking news story. There was no such thing. I’m not even sure the newspaper had a single e-mail address in 1993. But if there was lament about our predicament, we kept it to ourselves, because we realized that whatever difficulty we were having because of the timing of this news story, it was nothing compared to the difficulty of the Street family, the Indianola community, and friends and fans of Chris and the Hawkeyes.

The timing might have seemed bad for us, happening as it did right after our deadline and right before the dawn of the internet age of true instant communication. But in retrospect, it might have been the best thing for us. We were able to sit in stunned silence for a day while we absorbed the news. And then, the entire staff was able to devote our full attention for a day or two to putting together a special edition, a tribute to Chris, that recounted his life, his basketball heroics, and his death.

The back page of the special section included the conclusion of the timeline.We threw ourselves into the work, reporting, writing and editing stories, pulling together old photographs and designing pages. We brought back a recently departed sports editor, Dan Silvia, who had known Chris well, to work on stories and help give us direction. We found photos and clips and pieced together a detailed timeline of Chris’ short life and numerous accomplishments. With our staff of publisher Tom Hawley and Amy and Dan and me and Deb Belt and Rex Troute and Thad White and Steve Wolf and so many others, we put together a section that I still take great pride in.

We were able to do good work for that day and a half or so we worked on it because we weren’t distracted by our other duties. We took time off from compiling pages about community events, ladies’ clubs, police reports, ribbon cuttings, governmental meetings and the like to devote our full attention to Chris. 

The result was a four-page broadsheet newspaper. It had no advertising. We did not charge for it. We recommended people instead contribute to a Street memorial fund. We offered to mail the section to people who sent self-addressed stamped envelopes. And I’m sure we had distribution spots around town for people to pick them up. But because it was a special edition, we did not send them to subscribers.

In the weeks after the special edition, publisher Tom Hawley wrote about the process of putting together the edition and the reaction it generated.Thinking back on it now, we did it purely as a tribute, out of the goodness of our hearts. There was no money in it for the paper. On the contrary, with the cost of additional printing, I’m sure it was an enormous expense and burden for the company. I’m hoping it strengthened our paper’s goodwill in the community. Heck, I would hope that when people are reminded of the special section today, 20 years later, it still strengthens the paper’s goodwill in the community.

But the funny thing about the special section: Because it was not a regular edition of the paper and did not go to subscribers and did not include ads, it somehow was never recorded as an official edition of the paper. It was not one of the 52 annual editions of the paper and so was not included in the bound archives. It was not in any official way preserved for posterity. So though it was just about the most memorable and important and significant thing we did in my years at The Record-Herald, it is almost as if it did not actually exist.

I hadn’t even thought of that until I got another startling phone call last week. The call was from Amy Duncan, the very same person who first called to tell me the news about Chris Street. This time, Amy, who is now in charge of The Record-Herald and other weekly newspapers in the group, called to tell me it had been 20 years since that fateful night. Though that news was startling enough, the real reason for her call was to ask if I had saved a copy of the special section we produced. The newspaper itself did not have a copy of it.

Fortunately, I am a packrat. And for once in my life, that paid off. After about only 20 minutes of searching, I was able to find one of the Chris Street memorial sections and donate it back to The Record-Herald.

I kept it because I took great pride in the work that we did. And looking at it again after 20 years, I am somehow even more proud of what that young staff accomplished. It was a good piece of journalism, yes. But it was also an exceptional piece of community service, helping in some small way a readership mourning the loss of their young hero.

Link: The Record-Herald marks 20th anniversary of Chris Street's death

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Reader Comments (1)

Wow! I was just thinking about this. It had not dawned on me that it was 20 years ago. I believe I have a few copies left as well. I'll have to check.

January 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDan Silvia

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