Friday, October 20, 2006

Talking about real life

In Anchorage, we used to ask ourselves this question: If a Martian was coming to visit and had read a month's worth of the Daily News in advance, what would she expect to find?

Too often, our honest answer was, "a lot of really violent people who love to attend meetings."

We all know our journalism connects better and serves audiences better when it addresses their real lives – not the school board as much as the classroom, less about legislative committee hearings and more about unsafe water that never gets tested.

There's a fabulous example running now at the Charlotte Observer, where staffers are helping people tell stories about teen drinking in the own words. Thoughtfully organized and powerfully presented, these stories address life at the level most of us really live it: worried about our families, puzzled with the trends, confused over "kids these days."

They drink at parties on Friday and Saturday nights -- or on weekdays at home after school. They drink to fit in, belong, impress -- or to feel contented with themselves. Drinking among teenagers is down in the Carolinas from two decades ago, but teens are still abusing alcohol at alarming rates. They're starting at an earlier age and are bingeing more often.

A survey of Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school students this month revealed that 1 in 5 had consumed five drinks in a row in the previous month. One in 4 had climbed into a car with a driver who had been drinking. For most teens who try alcohol, drinking is a rite of passage among peers, a perilous decision with thankfully few consequences. For others, there is a price. Beginning today, we'll bring you their stories. Each is in the person's words, as told to an Observer reporter. Each offers insight into the reach of alcohol -- and its impact on any family.

Included in the series: The messenger. The daughter. The abstainer. The friend. The survivors. The counselor. The voices of teen drinking.

–Howard Weaver

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