Barhite: My 10 favorite Toledo Free Press storiesWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
My relationship with Toledo Free Press began with a simple email asking then-Editor in Chief Michael Miller if he had a job opening.
I was a reporter who had just relocated from Sandusky and I liked the scrappiness of the weekly paper. I was interviewed and hired that day. That is the pace of the Free Press.
But in honor of TFP’s 10th birthday, I wanted to slow down and reflect on 10 stories that most resonated with me.
In no particular order:
Merrin was the 21-year-old Waterville resident who ran for mayor and beat the incumbent in 2007. He was one of the youngest mayors in Ohio history. He was also one of my first interviews as a reporter for TFP. He was engaging and had a great sense of humor. He told me he planned to continue to live with his parents because he wanted to stay true to his campaign promise. “I am a fiscal conservative. I want to save money,” he said, laughing. After finishing his four-year term as mayor, Merrin was hired by the state to conduct performance audits for local governments. He is now the regional liaison for the Auditor of State. Impressive.
Kaple was part of a larger series that I worked on called Brain Gain. This series celebrated people who were making their careers in the Toledo area. Kaple was a gym teacher concerned about the rise in childhood obesity. He worked to show his kids that there is life outside of technology. Unfortunately, Toledo’s gain would be temporary. Kaple has since become an assistant principal for Lorain High School. While that is sad, that’s the point of writing about those who stay in Northwest Ohio. It seems like it is rare. When someone does stay, we want to celebrate it.
In 2009, I traveled with the Toledo International Youth Orchestra (TIYO) to Tanga, Tanzania, which is Toledo’s sister city. The young students were raising money to build a music room for the Toledo Secondary School in Tanga. The poverty we witnessed was indescribable. The unsanitary conditions led to many of the locals’ health problems, which were addressed by the medical team that came with us. It would have been an otherwise dismal trip had it not been for TIYO performing for the natives who in exchange performed for us. Music is truly universal.
On June 5, 2010, a tornado destroyed parts of Millbury and leveled Lake High School, where my husband is a teacher and coach. The tornado twisted my roles as wife and reporter. I was uncomfortably close to the story and decided to venture even closer. For a whole year, I followed a family who had lost everything in the tornado but each other. Brick by brick, I followed their rebuilding process, which included guilt for surviving. Three members of the family next door had died. Writing 52 stories forced me to rethink the notion that a story is done just because the media has moved on.
D. Michael Collins
I interviewed Collins in August 2009 when the councilman was running for mayor the first time. Some of the best stories are the ones that contain information never meant to be published. During the interview, Collins shared with me that his son had committed suicide. I wanted to publish it; Collins refused. A few days later, I called and asked again. I told him his life experiences were a reason he had empathy for the people he wanted to serve. He agreed and let me use this quote: “I will never see life the same way again, I can tell you that,” he said. “For the first couple of years, I would see something on the street that would automatically register in my head and I would have an emotional experience over my son.”
I don’t like to write about my family or myself. I prefer to tell stories about other people, but I wrote about my dad losing his job and my mom shattering her leg. I wrote about my sister’s boyfriend losing his brother. Every time I write about my family I am amazed at how many people are interested. It shows me that readers appreciate when journalists become introspective.
I have written many stories about people suffering from diseases, but no one described her condition as vividly as Carroll, the former host of radio show “The Jazz Brunch.” In 2013, Carroll shed light on multiple sclerosis (MS) in a way that will forever leave me humbled by those who suffer from this incurable disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. She called one of her MS attacks a “slow slide down into hell.” She was so fatigued she was tired 10 minutes after a full night’s sleep. Her subsequent nerve pain was so painful she often had to sit unclothed with her arms in the air.
Is your student drinking? That was what I wanted to find out and the answers were alarming. Teens told me that it isn’t hard to get alcohol; it’s all about the connections. Some teens even buy fake IDs. The impetus for this story was the underage drinking death of Brian Hoeflinger in February 2013. Within weeks, his family, in particular his father, Dr. Brian Hoeflinger, started a nationwide conversation about underage drinking. “Parents need to talk about it; they need to start a line of conversation,” Brian’s dad said. “Millions of parents don’t think of talking about it because they don’t think their kids are doing it.”
Father’s Day is every day
Craig Schuele was one of the happiest people I have ever interviewed. His optimism and joy for life were so contagious that I left the interview thinking that adopting six kids from Lucas County Children Services was the secret to lifelong happiness. “I get a lot of love all the time. They are really great kids,” he told me. “Obviously, we have our moments and we have our days, but Father’s Day is just like every other day. We might have a soccer game; we might have a baseball game. It might be the only free day I have that weekend and I might have to cut the grass, and obviously that hasn’t happened in a while,” he said, laughing. And then he got serious. “You think about where they could have been growing up. They wouldn’t nearly have the opportunities they had had,” Schuele said. “I am proud that I am able to give them that chance, even with six of them.”
Insert your story here
Toledo Free Press only exists because of you. The best stories are yet to be told. Without your ideas and your willingness to be interviewed, our publication would not exist. While I could come up with dozens more stories that I have enjoyed writing, I am wise enough to know that some of the best stories are the ones that we haven’t even thought of yet.
Brandi Barhite is community ombudsman at Toledo Free Press.