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Larry Lough

Top stories of the year? Says who?

As if we needed further proof, three things recently indicated that the $53 million scandal in Dixon City Hall was a huge story in 2012.

First, reporters and editors of this newspaper voted it the top news story of the year in the Sauk Valley.

Second, the story was ranked No. 8 statewide by the Associated Press, as determined by AP member editors and broadcast news directors throughout Illinois.

And the clincher: We have heard twice in the past 2 weeks from readers who say they are tired of reading about – and seeing pictures of – disgraced ex-Comptroller Rita Crundwell in this newspaper.

The trifecta!

YOU CAN CALL IT the “Sheley syndrome.”

A story of great interest and importance can easily find its way onto the front page of the local newspaper several days a week for several weeks and months after the news first breaks.

All of that exposure of criminal defendants builds resentment among some readers who believe the prominent reporting of story developments (A) glorifies the illegal acts and (B) gives the actors undeserved attention.

So, newspapers try to ensure some balance in the daily news report to avoid making too much out of relatively minor developments involving those prominently infamous people. But you can never please everybody.

A few years ago, we tried to quell reader unrest by pledging to use a photo of murder defendant (now convicted) Nicholas T. Sheley on the front page no more than three times a month.

Maybe we will need to do that for Crundwell.

Call it the “Sheley rule.”

JOURNALISTS LIKE to rank the top stories each year.

Such lists are good “opinion content” that, research shows, appeals to readers.

The rankings make good “talk stories,” because their subjective nature invites disagreement and discussion.

And, during the “slow news days” that almost always surround the end-of-the-year holidays, journalists need something to fill the space.

Just being honest.

BY ANY MEASURE, the Crundwell Caper was a runaway winner in the balloting of this newspaper’s staff.

We have had no such clear winner since the murder spree in 2008 that is attributed to Sheley.

If you saw our report in Wednesday’s editions, you know that Sheley continues to be a big story more than 4 years after being charged with eight murders.

His November conviction (finally) of one of five local murders came in No. 2 on our top stories of 2012.

With four other murder cases pending in Whiteside County, Sheley is likely to remain in the news for some time to come.

Like you, we wish it were not so.

IF YOU EXAMINED the stories that our staff voted the top 10 of this year, you will see a pattern.

Exactly half of them involved death, crime or both.

This editor will tell you that’s just the nature of news.

Don’t believe it? Think journalists dwell unnecessarily on bad news?

Then take a look at the top 10 online stories from, as measured by page views: Nine out of 10 involve death, crime or both. (See Wednesday’s edition, Page A11)

In other words, online readers “voted” with their eyeballs, and they overwhelmingly decided that bad stuff is newsworthy.

Like you, we wish it were not so.

OUR NEWS STAFF should be recognized for choosing five (relatively) good news stories among the top 10 for 2012.

At No. 3 was that fantastic August weekend during which Dixon did itself proud by hosting thousands of music fans at the Mumford and Sons concert (and related local events).

The sale of the maximum-security state prison at Thomson to the U.S. Justice Department was No. 4. The hundreds of jobs that will be created at the new federal prison will be good news, indeed, for the Sauk Valley.

Weather was our No. 5 newsmaker. That mild winter was good news for most folks, and that unusually hot, dry summer didn’t turn out so badly for most farmers.

At No. 6 was the recovery of two local military men who were wounded while serving in Afghanistan. Local support for Adam Devine and Michael Shoemaker Jr. was a great story.

And we chose the election of new state’s attorneys in Lee and Whiteside counties as story No. 9. To dispel any doubts, we should say that the vote was not a reflection on the two men who left those offices.


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