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Silver Threads: A bit of optimism

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

Almost 50 years ago, when I became editor of the Women’s Section of The States-Item, I ran a prize-winning wire story about the victims of the female circumcision culture in Africa. One woman called my boss as soon as she got her paper: “I don’t want to read about things like that!” she complained.

I’d selected that story, and later one about lesbian partners raising a family, because I thought it interesting and informative, but apparently not everyone shared my curiosity about the then unpublicized aspects of women’s lives — not even my senior editors.

Other stories that some considered “downers” crossed my desk and made their way into the section — and later the Living section of The Times-Picayune — were accounts of those struggling with handicaps or disease. I thought they might inspire others with health issues, let them know where to go for help and was told so in a phone call from one doctor at Tulane’s hospital who valued them for the same reason.

(Two so-called friends on the city desk called the stories “the disease of the week,” but I was immune to that kind of criticism. At a features editors’ seminar at the University of Missouri another participant remarked, “If you aren’t aggravating or enraging the city desk, you aren’t doing your job!”)

I got to thinking about all this when one of the three-newspaper days at our house arrived with reports of more crime in New Orleans, political misdeeds by both local and national officeholders, indictments, arrests, skulduggery, war in Africa and the Middle East, want and starvation in their midst, too much reality on reality television, the fall of a former speaker of the house, drug dealing on the world wide web, new recession forecasts, flooding and drownings in Texas, suicidal airplane pilots, sex offenses by star athletes... have I missed anything? The world has never seemed so messy.

I know that if has been. Having been old enough during World War II to read the newspaper and listen to the radio. Having been around for the Korean Conflict and the fighting in Vietnam. Having read my history books and the Bible. It’s just that ordinary people can know so much more today, courtesy of the technology that has been developed since I was born. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But I’m sure I’m not the only Washington Post subscriber (electronic, in my case) who greeted yesterday’s premiere of a new supplement with delight. Called "The Optimist," it “highlights recent stories of ambition and success and pluck. There may be a heart warmer included as well.”

Here are the stories in the first edition of The Optimist:

- CEO says he will pay college tuition for all of his employees’ children
- 102-year-old woman receives her PhD, 77 years after writing her thesis
- After her husband’s Parkinson Diagnosis, she invents a product to improve his life
- Americans gave their lives to defeat the Nazis; the Dutch have never forgotten
- One couple’s extraordinary response to an ALS diagnosis
- After gumbo and beer, customer leaves a $2,000 tip at a D.C. restaurant
- Delta pilots throw pizza parties for diverted passengers
- After the earthquakes, here’s what the Nepal rescue dogs do when they’re at home
- At Harvard, Natalie Portman acknowledges what many of us feel: Imposter Syndrome
- He almost missed his daughter’s college graduation; he got out of jail just in time
- Video: A rare baby tapir is born at Prague zoo

Who wouldn’t love to see some stories like these on the pages of local newspapers?

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]