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Editor's Weekly: Sometimes the news just doesn't make sense

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 14, 2012 - Dear Beaconites - The Beacon aims to help readers make sense of the news. Good reporting builds understanding and gives you tools to solve problems and avoid frustration.

But sometimes the news just doesn't make sense. Consider two developments the Beacon covered this week.

The Hoffmans' tenacious fight against foreclosure formed the backbone of an extraordinary series on the mortgage crisis. Beacon reporter Mary Delach Leonard first talked with this St. Peters family about two years ago. All this year, she's been been digging into the details of their situation -- painful details they were willing to share in the hope that their experience would help others avoid the same pitfalls.

The Hoffmans' ordeal provides rare, ground-level insight into what's bogging down the housing market. Before securing an agreement that allowed them to keep their home, the Hoffmans endured a down-the-rabbit-hole misadventure in bureaucracy -- endless requests for information, heart-stopping ups and downs and contradictory communications from lenders and from the programs that are supposed to help homeowners deal with lenders.

Mary has been reporting on the mortgage crisis since it began, so she understands how the Hoffmans' micro-experience fits into the macro-economic context. If homeowners as savvy and resilient as the Hoffmans have this much trouble, her reporting shows, it's no wonder that so many others fare worse. Their foreclosures reflect personal heartbreak, glut the housing market, and  bedevil general economic recovery.

In addition to Mary's reporting in text and video, the Beacon opened an alternative window to understanding. Presentation editor Brent Jones' timeline juxtaposed the Hoffmans' experience with larger trends, succinctly explaining both.

The series and the timeline are as good an explanation as I have seen of this complicated topic. And yet you may wind up wondering, as I did: Why are so many private lenders and assistance programs so inept when it is in no one's interest to let these problems fester? Sometimes the news just doesn't make sense.

I felt that same bewilderment a second time this week on learning that America's ambassador to Libya had been killed. The fatal chain of events began with the airing of a YouTube video that was offensive to Muslims. It ended with the murder of a man whose work helped Muslims.

Reporting that helps us understand this chain of events and its implications is vital. Beacon Washington correspondent Rob Koenig provided coverage that included thoughts from Missourians in key positions -- for example, Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the intelligence committee, and former Sen. Jim Talent, a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney.

Yet no amount of reporting will leave us feeling that the chain of events makes sense. Sometimes the news just doesn't. And understanding this is a valuable insight in itself.