By: Lesley Messer
In the parish of Ouachita, La., the death of Cpl. Chad Powell, 22, in Iraq last Thursday has been the recent focus of local media attention.
A longtime resident of the parish and a graduate from an area high school, Powell was killed Thursday when a suicide car bomber slammed into his convoy in Fallujah. Four other Marines — three of two female (a rare occurence in this war) — and one female sailor also died in the attack.
Because Powell is the first casualty from the small community of Ouachita, he is definitely front-page news, says Ken Stickney, managing editor of the local Monroe, La., daily The News-Star.
The paper, which has a weekday circulation almost 36,000, has taken several measures to cover the event as completely as possible.
A reporter spent enough time with family members in their home to vividly paint a picture of the soldier who left behind a wife and 3-year-old son. One of the first stories in an emotional package was largely told by direct quotes, The Marine’s father, for example, described him as a “good ol’ Southern boy” who loved to fish and hunt. His grandfather voiced an opinion repeated by many other relatives: that above all, Powell was very dedicated to Christianity.
With this compilation of interviews, the reporters were able to pay homage to Powell and his grieving family. In this portrait, he was not just a casualty of war, but a beloved friend and relative.
In addition, the newspaper staff has invited friends and family to submit pictures for an online photo album of Powell. Included are images of his family. The effect the tragedy has had on the parish becomes evident with the memories of Powell that readers have submitted to the paper; they can even talk to an editor if they do not feel comfortable formally writing down their thoughts. And there is a forum on the newspaper’s Web site where readers can send condolences to the family and write messages about Powell.
“We want to make this something that would be of interest and is done to the benefit of the family and to benefit the memory of Chad Powell,” said Stickney.
He explained that while the newspaper wants to ensure top-notch reporting, it’s important to allow the family to maintain its privacy. “They’re just regular folks who aren’t accustomed to dealing with the media,” said Stickney, who explained that when contacted by larger East Coast publications, members of the family were reluctant to talk. The only newspapers they seem to be comfortable speaking with are smaller ones, like The News-Star.
Looking to the community as a whole, the paper has published a story about how to deal with grief. “This is an area where there are a lot of military families,” said Stickney. “We’re trying to help people deal with this particular event.”
As of Tuesday, he did not know a funeral date but said that it will be covered in accordance with what the family finds most acceptable.