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Comment boards, diapers and faith in humanity

When I started this job nearly two years ago, an experienced reporter stopped by my desk with some sage advice.

“Don’t read the online comments,” she said. “It will destroy your faith in humanity.”

Being the newbie reporter who needs to learn everything the hard way, I immediately got on the Deseret News website and started reading the comments on our stories.

Comment boards are meant to facilitate discussion. Disagreement about the presentation of issues is inevitable — even encouraged — and reader insights can clue reporters into issues yet to be examined.

The trouble is that sometimes comment boards get really nasty. There’s something about the anonymity of the Internet can bring out our less-than-civil sides. If my only metric for measuring the state of humanity was comment boards, I’d be concerned, to say the least.

Luckily, it’s not.

This year as I reported stories on those searching for solutions to the issue of intergenerational poverty, I received hundreds of letters from readers who, touched by something they read, felt inspired to act.

Ellen Rowley runs Solly Baby, a line of soft cotton baby carriers, from her home in San Diego. With her business booming and the holiday season just around the corner, Rowley was looking for ways for her company to give back.

She came across an article in the Deseret News about low-income families that struggle to afford diapers. She knew all about that pinch; not so many years ago she was herself a young mom with a husband in school and a tight budget.

Rowley put a note on her website pledging that for every baby wrap she sold during the holiday season, she would donate a package of diapers to a local diaper bank. The issue resonated with her customers, and last week she took her children to Costco to purchase 200 packages of diapers for donation. So many babies and parents are going to have a good start to the new year because Rowley read something and felt compelled to act.

Rowley’s story is impressive, but not all that unusual. Several months ago I got a note from the leader of a youth group for girls detailing a service project they’d done for a summer camp. The leader read a story in the Deseret News about the need for clean birth kits in the developing world. As a labor and delivery nurse working in rural Idaho, this person understood better than most the importance of sanitation during delivery.

The article included instructions on how to assemble birth kits. “My girls should do this,” she thought as she read the story. Using her medical connections, the leader collected supplies for her campers to put the kits together.

As her campers assembled baggies filled with gauze, razors and pieces of soap, the leader explained how these simple kits could save the lives of women and babies in the developing world. That afternoon, the world must have felt very small as the campers worked to fill the needs of women they’ve never met.

It is an honor to participate in the sacred work of sharing the good in the world. My conviction of the power of media to move people to do good, to serve in their communities, and to help and lift one another expanded this year, and for that I must thank you, readers. You inspire me.

In no particular order, here is a list of 2013's most impactful national caring for the poor stories from the Deseret News:

1. Unique daddy-daughter dance reunites girls with incarcerated fathers by Mercedes White

2. How $2 can save the lives of mothers and babies by Mercedes White

3. Working with gun owners to fight suicide by Kate Bennion

4. Everything you thought you knew about poverty is wrong by Mercedes White

5. Study finds casinos deepen inequality by Eric Schulzke

6. Microedit founder Yanus seeking more ways to fight poverty by Mercedes White

7. Can the poor save money by Mercedes White

8. America's mental health challanges illustrated by Patrick Kennedy by Eric Schulzke

9. Afghani invents toy that could save lives from land mines by Mercedes White

10. Who are the real minimum wage workers? by Mercedes White

Email: mwhite@deseretnews.com