Editors of daily newspapers across the country are listing the top news stories of the year. The possibilities boggle the mind: threats of war with Iraq, sniper killings, suicide bombings, corporate scandals, floods.

Last year, the task of choosing was daunting because two news events were unparalleled in recent history -- the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the declaration of a war on terrorism.

This year has seen plenty more deaths in the world: more than 1,150 in Senegal ferry sinking; more than 900 in India, Nepal, Bangladesh from monsoons; more than 1,000 by explosions at a Nigerian munitions depot; nearly 200 in the bombing of a Bali nightclub; 128 hostages in a Moscow theater.

One of the people who died this year was Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was abducted and killed in Pakistan. His death might not make the top 10 news stories once all the editors' votes are counted, but it should.

Traditionally, foreign correspondents and reporters covering wars and conflicts expect some immunity from being hurt, killed or kidnapped. They're there to get all sides of a story. Pearl's murder by Islamic extremists showed the free world that these terrorists don't care about conveying a message or arguing their positions. They want to destroy democracy, and a free press is basic to that form of government.

If Pearl's death ends up on the list of top 10 stories of 2002, I hope the average American won't think journalists are simply being sympathetic to one of their own.

His murder represents a deliberate affront to America. It's as much an attack on our liberty as the crashing of planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Pearl's wife gave birth to his son months after her husband died, but another important legacy lives on in a foundation set up to support Pearl's interests. Donations can be sent to the Daniel Pearl Foundation, in care of The Wall Street Journal, P.O. Box 300, Princeton, N.J., 08543.

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Where will you be Dec. 24?

If my track record is any indication, I'll be Christmas shopping at the last minute and making bad choices for gifts for my wife and children.

Have you visited a store on Christmas eve? If so, you cannot deny the stereotype of men waiting until they're absolutely forced to make shopping decisions. The stores are filled with men, trying to understand the strange world of clothing sizes for women and usually settling for jewelry or perfume.

But I would like to defend myself and maybe some other men with one good excuse. Until that last opportunity for shopping for Christmas, I've usually been with my wife on shopping trips, and you cannot buy a gift for someone who is with you.

My shopping challenge is higher than most men because my wife's birthday is three days before Christmas. So I have to buy two gifts within a span of a few days.

After 20 years of marriage and 24 years of knowing each other, this shopping thing should get easier, but instead it's harder because I've made all the mistakes allowable. I've no more excuses, so I just better get shopping.

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Ron Wayne is editor of The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at 244-3400, ext. 229, or e-mailed at ron.wayne@gaflnews.com.



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