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It's not always business
By CHRIS TRAINOR
Saturday, April 27, 2013 8:00 PM
The relationship between a newspaperman and his sources - his longtime sources - is a delicate thing.
We are supposed to be impartial viewers, keeping our sources just close enough to get the accurate information we need, while at the same time recognizing there is a line between "source" and "friend."
Still, it's difficult.
This is my ninth year at the Index-Journal. Through the course of nearly a decade, I've gotten to know many of my sources quite well. I know where they go to church and where their kids go to school. Many of them have gotten to know my wife and daughter.
Business is business, but there are layers to these relationships.
Trust is built, sometimes torn down, then built again. They know I'm not going anywhere and neither are they. I've got to write stories for the newspaper, they've got to run the city and county, so we might as well get along. For the most part, we understand each other.
As an example, I have long enjoyed a good relationship with Greenwood County Councilwoman Edith Childs. We have collaborated on countless stories through the years.
I've written about the Back to School Bashes she puts on for underprivileged kids each year. I've written about meals she organizes for the needy each Thanksgiving and Christmas. I've written numerous times about her interactions with President Barack Obama, which always nets me a fresh round of hate mail and nasty phone messages.
However, it hasn't been all gum drops and lollipops on the news side. Childs is one of several Council members who was caught up in the indistrict expense/council fund fiasco investigated by the state Ethics Commission.
It's been a long year with many hard news stories about the issue in the Index-Journal. An editorial in this paper two weeks ago even called for Childs, along with two other Council members, to resign because of the indistrict expense issue.
Still, throughout the indistrict expense debacle, Childs and I have maintained a working relationship.
When I need a quote for a story, she doesn't hesitate to provide one. On a personal level, she always asks about my family when she sees me, specifically my daughter, Charley. I always ask about her family, especially her husband, Charles. Essentially, we've gotten along for years and we still get along. Through good news and bad news.
I share that anecdote to illustrate, in real life, reporters and longtime sources tend to have unique relationships. Working relationships, sure, but sometimes it can be something more. Stories have to get written - positive stories, negative stories, but, more than anything, honest stories. But, that doesn't mean we can't care about one another as people.
I was reminded of that last week when I saw longtime CPW board member Gene Hancock.
HANCOCK HAS BEEN WITH CPW, in one capacity or another, for almost 60 years.
As a publicly elected member of the CPW board, the 81-year-old Hancock is one of my sources. But, he also has been a friend.
Gene, as some know, has been in a fierce battle with cancer in recent months. He has been through the requisite treatments and was forced to miss some CPW meetings and (much to his dismay, I'm sure) some of his beloved University of South Carolina baseball games.
However, he was back for CPW's meeting last week, about 75 pounds lighter, but just as salty and bombastic as ever. Cancer threw a haymaker at the 81-year-old, but he's responded with two jabs and a left hook of his own.
The first time I ever met Gene, he was mad at me.
Years ago, during one of the many flare-ups about the proposed park land on Grace Street, parks advocate Josh Fennell took me to the property, which was owned by CPW at the time. I interviewed him there, and we did a big, splashy, front page story about how nice it would be to have a park on the property.
At the CPW meeting the following week - a public gathering during which a heated discussion about the Grace Street land took place - Fennell was in attendance and Hancock let him know he didn't appreciate the story in the paper.
"And that reporter right there helped you!" Hancock bellowed, pointing a finger my way.
Despite his initial displeasure with the reporter, he eventually changed his opinion enough to at least tolerate me a little bit. He even invited me to sit with him at the South Carolina-Georgia football game in 2008.
During that game - a stereotypical SEC defensive bloodbath won by the Bulldogs, 14-7 - we managed to keep the conversation away from politics, for the most part.
Talks did, at one point, begin to veer toward the Grace Street issue, but a Greenwood accountant, who happened to have the seats next to Gene, leaned over and said "OK, Gene, don't start politicking over there!"
Through the years, I've quoted and interviewed Gene numerous times. On the record, we've talked about utility and CPW issues. Off the record, we've talked about football and baseball and barbecue and family and, of course, the Gamecocks. He adores his grandchildren. He misses his wife, who passed away several years ago.
Sure, I'm here to report the news. When I walked into the CPW meeting Thursday, I knew there would be some utility-related issue that affects the residents of the City of Greenwood that would find its way into the paper.
But, I also was glad to see Gene again. Cancer has tried its damnedest, but it hasn't gotten the best of him.
"I'm making a comeback," Hancock said to one of his colleagues, just before Thursday's meeting.
Never doubted it, my friend. Never doubted it.
Trainor is the senior staff writer at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 943-5650; email email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @IJCHRISTRAINOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.
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