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Two stories our readers should be talking about

December 04, 2005|By LIZ THOMPSON

Last week, The Herald-Mail published two stories that should get our readers talking.

The first was the result of an informal, unscientific survey of teenage girls on the subject of sex. The second was information about Washington County's disaster evacuation plans.

Each took time to research and report. And each should have given our readers some insight into two very important local issues.

The first - the survey with teens about sex - was published Monday, Nov. 28, and came about after the Washington County Health Department issued its latest study on teen pregnancy. While the numbers are dropping in the county, they still remain higher than state averages and they still remain a matter of great concern.

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Tiffany Arnold, who is our young reader reporter, suggested that we should talk with teenage girls about their own sexual practices.

We wanted to know what teens were really thinking and doing, so we decided to allow them to speak with anonymity, something we rarely do at The Herald-Mail. There has to be a compelling reason to quote someone and not identify the person.

We thought the fact that Washington County had the fourth-highest teenage pregnancy rate in the state in 2003 - the most recent year for which statistics were available - was a compelling reason.

Over the course of several days, Tiffany sought out teens and asked them to talk with her. She explained who she was and the story she was writing. The teens were frank in their comments.

Of the 16 teens we talked to, 10 said they had had sex and nine said they currently were sexually active. All but one said they had talked with their parents about sex, but only three said they thought the discussions about sex they had with their parents were good.

The teens also proved they know a fair amount about sex, but they also admitted they still take chances when it comes to protecting themselves against sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy.

We thought it was a story parents might shudder to read, but one that they would want to read.

The second story was reported and written by Erin Cunningham and was published in the Sunday, Nov. 27, newspaper.

Erin spent several weeks collecting information about Washington County's evacuation plans. We were first told we could have the plan, then told we would get the plan after a rewrite was completed. We then asked for both plans and eventually sent a Freedom of Information request for the first draft. Erin had both drafts, but before she could finish the story, we received a third draft.

What struck us - and should have struck our readers - is the lack of detail in the plan and the apparent lack of compassion by the man who drafted it.

Stoyan Russell, the county's emergency planner, said if people are not prepared for a disaster, "That's your problem."

He also said each person should be able to prepare a "go bag" - a bag packed with food, clothing, medicine and personal care items - regardless of their individual financial ability. "They have money for cigarettes. They have money for booze," he told our reporter.

I was curious about how each of us was supposed to know we needed a "go bag." The first I heard of it was through Erin's story. If there is something each of us is supposed to know to do in case of an emergency, shouldn't we be told about it before the emergency occurs?

A newspaper's job is to tell its readers what is happening in their community. In both of these cases, this is information our readers would not have had, I believe, through any other means. If either or both of these issues are important to you, you now have information that will allow you to address the matter - whether that means speaking frankly about sex to your child or demanding the county have a realistic evacuation plan that puts its citizens' welfare first.

Liz Thompson is city editor of The Herald-Mail. You may reach her at 301-733-5131, ext. 7682, or by e-mail at lizt@herald-mail.com.

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