Every time the winter starts to melt into the spring, I think of Jennifer Harris. Harris, a Bonham High School graduate, was killed on Mother’s Day weekend in 2002. Since then, a slew of law enforcement officers and politicians have discussed the case in public. Some of them made promises about solving the case and impugned their political opponents for not being able to do so.
Still the case sits unsolved. In 2017, I wrote a fairly lengthy piece about the case and talked to each of the law enforcement officers who had worked the case that were still available to interview.
One of the things that a long tenure on a newspaper does for a reporter is allow them to build trust with sources. It takes a lot trust for a person to discuss, just in a general way, what did or didn’t go well in such an investigation. Getting them to say that kind of thing in print takes a lot of water under the bridge and patience.
When I first started writing that piece, some folks weren’t answering their phones. Weeks passed and slowly, one person answered, and then another, and then another. Soon everyone wanted to say what they had and hadn’t been able to do with the case and why. They wanted people to know that no one had meant to let Jennifer or her family down. No one wanted her death to go unresolved all of these years.
Putting all of that information together in a package that would further our readers’ knowledge of the particulars of the case and the people involved took the kind of team effort that I love about journalism. When the story really started to come together while I was covering another case in court, another reporter did interviews that I couldn’t get scheduled. Editors read and re read copy and suggested changes. Designers worked to make sure the way the story was placed on the page helped readers find interesting entry points.
Telling that story took time and space on the page. Those are some fairly expensive materials in the newspaper business and I was proud to be allowed to consume so much of it for that story.
As this industry continues to undergo changes, and as our paper deals with changes to its print schedules and delivery methods, I am happy to know what we will continue to be allowed to take long, hard looks at the issues that continue to matter in our community and report on what we find in ways that help readers separate fact from folk lore and productivity from political promises.
Happy birthday to Buttons Null, Diameta Hagood, La’Rayia Wills, Willie Johnson and Nicole Schafer, all of Sherman; Mildred Bullard of Denison; Massey Moore of El Dorado, Arkansas;