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The events of Oct. 31, 2001

The following article and photo were included in the Dec. 22 edition of the Newton County News in Granby, Mo.

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The effect the news media has on small towns can be devastating and no one knows that better than Randy Turner.

Turner, a longtime reporter and editor for the Lamar Democrat and Carthage Press, explores that effect in his first novel, "Small Town News" published recently by IUniverse.

Turner, who teaches eighth grade English at South Middle School in Joplin, says the novel is based on actual events that occurred Oct. 31, 2001, in Diamond when the city's bank was robbed and the school superintendent vanished on the same day. The body of the superintendent, Dr. Greg Smith, a Joplin resident, was found the following week at the bottom of a pond.

"I was teaching at Diamond Middle School at the time," Turner said, "and my eighth graders had a discussion about the way the media was handling the story. I couldn't believe how angry my students were about how the tv and newspaper people kept hounding Dr. Smith's family. I decided that the behavior of the media when news hits a small town would make a good book."

The book's lead character is a high school journalist, Tiffany Everett, who lands a one-week internship at a local television station on the same day the bank in Tiffany's town is robbed with one man murdered during the robbery, and the superintendent at her school disappears. From her vantage point during the following week, Tiffany has the opportunity to see the best and the worst in small-town journalism, as the local television stations and newspapers compete for every scrap of news.

The other lead characters are Shannon Starbuck, the television reporter to whom Tiffany is assigned, Willie Taylor, Tiffany's journalism teacher and a former newspaper editor, and Kirk Robbins, the editor who replaced Willie after he was fired.

Turner spent 22 years in journalism, as an editor and reporter at southwest Missouri newspapers, including The Carthage Press and the Lamar Democrat, earning approximately 100 awards, among them 30 national, state, and regional awards for investigative reporting..

Turner has been a teacher since 1999, though he keeps his hand in at journalism with his blog, The Turner Report, at www.rturner229.blogspot.com

"Small Town News" can be ordered through Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble and is available at Hastings in Joplin. More information about the novel can be found at its website: http://rturner229.tripod.com/smalltownnews

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