DEMOCRACY is the key word in our second annual accounting to you, readers of The Sun. It has been a truly remarkable year distinguished by excellence in journalism, solid business growth and tremendous change.
In my first letter to you, I told you that our mission is to cover the news without fear or favor and that our duty is to do it by seeking the truth with honesty, accuracy, fairness and courage. It is a privilege guaranteed by the First Amendment, and it is a bedrock principle of a democracy.
Walter Lippmann, the legendary journalist, once wrote: "The newspaper is in all literalness the bible of democracy, the book out of which a people determines its conduct. It is the only serious book most people read. It is the only book they read every day."
We have a tremendous responsibility to democracy and to you. The 2000 presidential election, the longest since the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1801, was a litmus test for democracy and a challenge for us. Despite all the controversy, the acrimonious debate and - yes - the bitterness, we all fared well and are now prepared to peacefully inaugurate our new president.
We are proud of our journalists who worked tirelessly, without days off, to bring you an accurate, honest and fair accounting of the events occurring at breakneck speed. Some of the news, such as the final U.S. Supreme Court ruling, broke late at night, challenging our reporters to impart order and coherence to often complicated, confusing opinions - under real deadline duress.
But our journalists do great work every day. Here are a few examples:
"Nitrogen's Deadly Harvest," a five-part series by reporters Heather Dewar and Tom Horton, described the environmental devastation mounting worldwide from an explosion in nitrogen-enriched fertilizer that has thrown the planet's chemistry out of balance. The series revealed the enormous environmental damage that has already occurred and warned of even worse consequences ahead.
Reporter Jim Haner's stories on lead poisoning brought to light how it has caused serious learning problems and a propensity to violence in some of Baltimore's poorest children. One story profiled one woman's tragic struggle with lead poisoning, a terrifying sentence she has passed on to her daughter.
Stories written by reporters Linell Smith, Patricia Meisol, Ann LoLordo and Marego Athans unveiled the abusive relationships killer Joseph Palczynski had with several area women. The stories showed how romance turned to terror - a precursor to his murderous rampage in which four people were killed and a family was held hostage in Dundalk for days.
Reporter Scott Shane and photographer Chiaki Kawajiri produced a compelling three-part series on the work of John Hopkins public health researchers in Nepal, a Third World country where 10 percent of children die before they are 5 years old. These unsung heroes save tens of thousand of lives in remote and impoverished places by dispensing Vitamin A.
Reporter Howard Libit wrote a four-part series on "can do" schools, public schools whose students perform far better than the socioeconomic data on their communities would suggest they could.
On our editorial pages, we continued our scrutiny of the flaws in the criminal justice system. Most recently, a series of editorials has focused on the overburdened, underfunded probation system.
As in recent years, we've won numerous awards for journalism. We're proud The Sun was selected as "Newspaper of the Year" for our circulation category by the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. We won the George Polk Award and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for the 1999 "Boot Camps" series. Those stories, produced by reporter Todd Richissin and photographer Andre Chung, led to reform in the state's juvenile justice system. The Sun won the Excellence in Urban Journalism Award, given by the Enterprise Foundation and the Freedom Forum, for Jim Haner's 1999 series on an East Baltimore neighborhood known as "Zombieland" because of its drug dealers and other criminals.
The Society of American Travel Writers Foundation awarded The Sun its Gold Medal for the best Travel section in the country. And our Newspaper in Education program, which makes newspapers available in classrooms, won a first place award from the Inland Press Foundation.
Another important part of our mission is to encourage the exchange of ideas and opinions. We believe in our obligation to make certain that the newspaper and Sunspot, our Web site, are forums for everyone's opinion, especially unpopular ones. We are pleased that we hear from you frequently. We receive about 10,000 letters every year and publish about 3,000 of them. Recently we recognized some of our best letter writers at a reception.