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Published: Sunday, December 23, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

‘Head and heart’ on Christmas front page

At Christmas, what makes a package special? Is it the surprise factor -- something you simply never expected to find under the tree?

Or is it, as so many people say, the thought that counts?

Each year, the Daily Herald's front page tries to deliver both of these qualities on Christmas morning.

"I don't think most editions of the newspaper are complete unless they have something for the 'head' and something for the 'heart,'" says Neal Pattison, executive editor. "But for one day of the year, it is all about the 'heart.'"

And so, a large portion of the front page on Christmas Day is devoted to an article that gives everyone a little more hope for the human race. For much of November and December, reporters and editors have their eyes out for just the right story that will make a good holiday gift for our readers.

"Let's face it, Christmas is not a day when readers want to spend too much time with news," says Robert Frank, city editor, "So our story needs to be about benevolence, love and the spirit of kindness."

One of Frank's favorites was a story headlined "The Light Within."

Former Herald reporter Kaitlin Manry told the dramatic story of a Camano Island man who emerged from a coma. Although Peter Najar retained little memory of the previous 13 years, the one thing he remembered was that he loved his wife and family.

Another of Frank's favorites was a piece by Gale Fiege, who wrote about an Everett man living with multiple sclerosis. Michael Moe took a disfigured apple tree in his back yard and carved branches into canes that he handed out to people whom he met, many of them veterans.

So what gift should our readers expect in the Herald on Tuesday morning?

Well, it would ruin the surprise if we gave away too many details -- but here's how we found the story:

Following the adage that giving is better than receiving, the newspaper invited readers to share their personal remembrances of the best gifts they had ever given. But the effort backfired.

Instead of writing about gifts they had given, readers started sending us notes about the best gifts they had ever received.

So, we were forced to change our idea. And that was a good thing, because receiving was the theme in more than 30 of the responses we got from Snohomish County readers. These weren't accounts about receiving lavish items. Most were about simple gifts and generous acts of kindness.

The submissions included one story that jumped out at feature writer Andrea Brown and her editor, Melanie Munk. It was a note from Sylvia Hustad of Edmonds.

"She told us about an enduring gift from her dying sister," Brown says. "It really captured the universal magic."

So, on Christmas morning we will run excerpts from many of the reader submissions. And the story of Sylvia's sister will get the place of honor on Page One.

"Our county is rich in good people, people who are thoughtful and generous, genuine and true," says Frank. "We want to tell these kinds of stories as much as we hope our audience wants to read them."

The Sunday column, Here at The Herald, provides an inside peek at the newspaper. Is there something you would like to know? Email executive editor Neal Pattison at

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