COLUMNS

I'm new in town

DeWayne Bartels

Welcome to the inaugural issue of Woodford Times.

If you are reading this column hoping to get a sense of what this newspaper is going to be like, I’m afraid you are in for a disappointment.

I may be the news editor, but I have no earthly clue what this newspaper will be like as we go on from here.

The reason I say that is simple — I don’t yet know how you, the readers, are going to contribute to this newspaper.

Oh, I have plenty of story ideas.

But, a newspaper, in my experience, is shaped as much by the community and the readers as the editor.

I’m going to be coming to you looking for quotes and to share story ideas.

So, it seems to me it is only fair I start out telling you a little about me.

I am 51 years old.

I will celebrate my 30th wedding anniversary later this month.

I have three children and too many grandkids for me to keep track of.

I have lived in Central Illinois my entire life.

The farthest from the Tri-County Area I have lived is Kewanee.

I am opinionated.

I am adventuresome. I’ll try almost anything — except skydiving — once.

My wife says I do not have enough sense to be afraid when I should be.

She’s right, of course.

In other words, I’m a handful.

I love the challenge of filling blank newspaper pages.

I love politics.

I am a news junkie.

I believe there is no such thing as a boring story, only a boring approach to a story by the writer.

I have 30 years in the media — the last 20 as a reporter or editor.

I have had an interesting ride in these past 20 years.   

A lot of newspaper people strive to get away from the small town papers they start out working for. I’m just the opposite.

I have worked for nothing but community newspapers.

I love small towns.

Even while editor of the Peoria Times-Observer, I was a small town editor. If one really looks at Peoria, it’s a bunch of neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is unique with its own characters and politics.

There is interesting news to be found in small towns.

I know, because I have uncovered a lot of it over the years all over the Greater Peoria Area.

I saved the life of an elderly woman in Morton, while in pursuit of a story about her disappearance from a local nursing home.

The Chicago Tribune called me “The Rescue Reporter.” The victim’s older brother called me something else. There’s a funny story associated with that but you’ll have to ask me.

Probably my greatest accomplishment as a reporter involved my eight-year investigation of the story of Henry Lee Lucas, an accused serial killer on death row in Texas.

I helped to prove he was innocent of the murder for which he was placed on death row in Texas.

In 1998,  then Texas Gov. George W. Bush, while running for president, released Lucas from death row.

In the pursuit of the Lucas story, I appeared on the Montel Williams Show and “American Justice.”

One of my most humiliating moments is when I was beat up by a telescope. Yes, you read that right. That’s another story you’ll have to ask me about.

As a matter of fact I have a lot of stories I did not mention here. When I stop in to see you and ask for your story, I have stories for those with willing ears.

I’ve won a lot of journalism awards, but I’m not always the brightest crayon in the box. Let me illustrate.

Years ago while living in a Morton apartment complex a neighbor came home drunk and decided to start his propane grill to cook a steak.

He fell asleep and the grill overheated setting four buildings on fire including the one I, my wife and three children were asleep in.

The police scanner went off with the fire tones about 2 a.m. and I heard the dispatcher say “fire” and my address.

I ran to the curtains, pulled them back and saw a sheet of orange flames.

I woke the wife and kids and got them out just as a cop was getting ready to kick our front door in.

I grabbed my notebook and camera and out I went. But, I had to turn around and go back in. I forgot to grab a two-liter bottle of Pepsi. I’m a Pepsi addict.

Anyway, once outside, my wife and kids were sitting huddled under a blanket in the parking lot. I didn’t notice because I was running around getting quotes,  snapping spectacular fire photos and bugging the fire chief to let me go up on the top of the ladder truck for photos.

Finally, a neighbor, noticing I was in full-blown reporter mode asked me why I was running around in my shorts talking to people and not with my family.

I went back to the family and told them I must have some great photos.

My wife gave me that look only women possess. Married guys know what look I mean. 

We lost everything due to smoke and water damage and a partial collapse of the apartment above us into our apartment.

Oh, and those spectacular photos? Well, had I put film in the camera I might have gotten some.

I fancy myself the frontier editor portrayed in old Westerns. Instead of a gun I have a computer.

But, like those editors of yesteryear I have a fire in my belly. You will find I’m a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy.

I have no pre-conceived agendas. I have no history in Woodford County to contend with.

We have a fresh start. Let’s get going. Tell me your story and let’s start shaping this newspaper together.