Kyle Troutman: A man to be missed

Saturday, November 7, 2020

There’s no way to put into words how difficult it has been this week for the Monett and surrounding communities after the loss of Monett Superintendent Russ Moreland.

The news came as a shock to everyone. It was unbelievable at first, and many, myself included, are still having trouble wrapping our heads around the tragic and untimely passing of a man so respected and loved by anyone who interacted with him.

I first met Russ in 2014, when I started working at The Times and he was the superintendent at Pierce City. I didn’t cover the district as a beat, but on occasion, I would call for specific stories or run into Russ at Eagles football games.

I’ve met and talked to a lot of superintendents in my years as a journalist, and one of the first stories I covered with Russ was the Pierce City school district’s tax levy proposal in 2017.

Russ gained my respect instantly in those interviews for his ability to speak directly and plainly, sharing his vision for the district and what it would take to get there. He knew after a failed tax increase proposal in 2014 that the new one would not be an easy sell either, but he was determined to do what it took to improve the district.

When the bond issue passed in 2018, Russ was elated and relieved — and he should have been because he earned it.

Russ and I talked frequently this year during the initial stages of the pandemic and wellness break, as well as about the back to school plan. Through so much uncertainty, Russ remained calm and calculated. He answered my questions with candor and sincerity. We worked together well, and those traits were always ones I deeply respected.

They were qualities he always had, along with his snappy sense of humor. Russ could take a friendly jab and deliver the counter right back, and with a smile.

It was almost a given when I covered Pierce City a couple of times a year that I would run into him and ask when he was going to pony up for new lighting at the football field. He would respond on cue by asking when we would pony up for better cameras.

Our relationship made reporting his passing one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do and the least enjoyable part of my job.

I am routinely taken to task for stories that are controversial or difficult to handle, and I was again this week.

There were two major points being made on our social media pages concerning the story: why was it reported when it was and Russ’ parents had not yet been told, and why did I use the term “died” instead of “passed away?”

Ultimately, there is no good time or way to report the loss of someone like Russ — it stings. At the time I released the information, three hours had passed since the immediate family, Russ’ wife and children, had been notified. Furthermore, emails had been sent within the school district notifying staff and parents, and the board was meeting with administrators before I began writing the article.

From my perspective, the news had already been delivered to so many people and plenty enough time had passed that I could release it through the paper. Short of calling the family directly to ask if every member had been told, there was no way for me to know his parents had not.

If this exacerbated any grief within the family, I apologize. That is never my intention, and the timing of these types of stories is something we at The Times will give even stronger consideration to in the future.

As far as the language, using the words “died” and “death” are the industry standard for news reporting in these situations. It is not meant to be calloused or cold, rather, to be direct and simple, to the point and leaving no room for misinterpretation.

Some said we did not take the family into consideration whatsoever with the story. I submit that I took the family into great consideration by omitting details that should never have any place in our reporting.

I may be taken to task again for giving these explanations, but I firmly believe transparency and openness about our reporting process and decisions is fundamental to our duty to our readers and the community.

This is a standard Russ had told me he respected, as it gave us the ability to tackle issues openly and fairly.

As we go forward, all of our thoughts and prayers at the paper are with the Moreland family and the community. We grieve with you, and we hope for better days.

Nothing has stuck more with me this week than when I interviewed Russ’ friend, Cassville Superintendent Richard Asbill. As we concluded the interview, I asked, as I always do, if there was anything he wanted to add.

I think Asbill spoke for everyone with his four-word response — “I miss my friend.”

Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of The Monett Times since 2014. In 2017, he was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers. He may be reached at 417-235-3135 or editor@monett-times.com.

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