Real Heroes article is annual; heroes’ stories are fresh

Around the holidays, family cooks know their assignment: The family has a favorite — an entree, a side dish or a dessert — that everyone expects on the table. And the cook had better do it right.

Follow Aunt Gladys’ traditional recipe. No fancy variations from the Food Network or Gordon Ramsay are necessary (or appreciated).

The same thing holds true at a community newspaper like the Daily Herald.

There are certain stories that we do annually. Specific facts may change, but the stories themselves strike a familiar chord. And readers grow to expect them.

On Thursday, The Herald presented its package of Real Heroes — one of those stories we never miss.

Each year the American Red Cross Snohomish County Chapter honors a number of local people whose actions helped to save the lives of neighbors, friends, family members, or, often, complete strangers.

The awards ceremony packs a ballroom at the Tulalip Resort Casino, where the breakfast crowd is introduced to the heroes and shown video clips that recount their deeds. This is an important event for the Red Cross, and it raises about a quarter of a million dollars for the local chapter.

Now, The Herald uses plenty of ink announcing awards, nonprofit fundraisers and civic commemorations.

But the staff takes things to a special level for the Real Heroes event. We reserve Page One space a week in advance, to make sure we can feature at least one of the award recipients. (This year it was a story about two guys, lifelong hunting and fishing buddies who each helped save the other’s life during the past year.)

In addition, the newspaper prints photos and summaries about all the other heroes, too.

These stories don’t run a day or a week after the event. They run on the morning of the actual breakfast, so subscribers all over Snohomish County are reading about these heroes while the breakfast is in progress.

In a world full of scandals and crises, politics and police work, what makes a community breakfast like this one worthy of Page One every year?

This year, reporter and columnist Julie Muhlstein drew the assignment, as she frequently has over the years.

“For me, it’s an inspiring reminder that all around us are people quietly going about their live,” she says. “Without expectations of notice or reward, they make life better for others. It’s a privilege to tell their stories.”

Herald reporters are a special breed, says Neal Pattison, executive editor. “They really love telling ‘people’ stories. Sometimes they are tragedies and sometimes they are triumphs. But good journalism introduces neighbors to neighbors and helps them learn how they’re connected.”

And The Herald’s commitment to events like the Real Heroes breakfast goes beyond news coverage. The newspaper company is an official supporter of the event, and Kim Heltne, assistant to the publisher, is a table captain, one of the people who wrangles donations from her seatmates.

“For the past 112 years, our reporters, photographers and editors have shared stories about the heroes (and the villains) in our community,” Heltne says. “We look forward to the Real Heroes breakfast each year because it offers a heart-warming opportunity to celebrate positive outcomes … and to say ‘thank you’ to the individuals whose efforts served to change the course of events.”

And it is not just the Red Cross that gets this sort of treatment.

Each year faithful readers know The Herald will ask elementary students how to cook their Thanksgiving turkeys. And quote the speeches of the county’s high school graduates. And compile a holiday directory, Ways to Give. And publish big, colorful salutes to our top boy and girl athletes.

“The Evergreen State Fair is another example of an event that comes around every summer,” Muhlstein says. “In the past few years, Herald photographers have shared fresh images from the fair each day on a special fair page. That’s a fun way to tell a perennial story.”

It seems there are lots of recurring favorites, and our family of readers expect us to bring them to the table this year and every year. And that is one of the ways The Daily Herald defines community journalism.

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 npattison@heraldnet.com.

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