Last Sunday I wrote how someone had broken into my car and busted my stereo.On Tuesday, I received an anonymous $300 money order. And on Thursday I returned it to the State Employees Credit Union, which will redeposit it in my would-be benefactor's account.Kinda like finding a $20 bill on the floor -- at church. First a big thank you to my mystery donor."To help with a new radio," she wrote. "No one should be without music."Wow. (I only know it's a woman because the person at the credit union told me they would put the money back in "her" account.) I was never going to keep the money, of course. But it was fun opening the envelope marked PERSONAL with no return address on Tuesday.Page designer Carolyn Webb practically shrieked when I said I was going to give it back. I don't think she was serious, but we fantasized for a few minutes about what charities we could give it to. Then someone suggested giving it to a local music group or groups. That seemed fitting and is probably what we would have done if the credit union had been unable to return the $300.The woman at the credit union desk asked me to wait while she took the money order to the tellers. "Do people ever return money orders?" I asked. "First one I ever heard of," she said. "You don't have any clue who gave it to you?""Uh-uh.""Never heard of that either."It took seven minutes. I left with a receipt that says "Anonymous money order was returned to the remitter. $300.00 8/17/06"Sigh.Reporters get offered stuff all the time. Free books, movie and concert tickets, most often sent in the hope that we'll publicize the stuff.When I was a weekly newspaper editor in my 20s I did a story on a new luxury hotel that had opened in the town I was working in. The owner also ran a chain of hotels in the Bahamas.He liked the story so much he sent me two beach towels with the hotel insignia and a card inviting me to spend a week at one of his tropical inns free of charge.I kept the towels.But such gifts are a slippery slope. Here is what The News & Observer, which owns The Chapel Hill News, has to say about them. "Staffers shall not accept items of value from individuals, institutions, organizations or industries when offered with an overt or presumed request for coverage or in appreciation of coverage." "Items of more than token value must be returned to the sender with an explanation of our policy. Such items include gift certificates, free tickets to an event or a CD player.""Items of nominal value, such as a T-shirt or paperweight, will either be given directly to a charity -- if the need is known -- or more likely placed in a charity bin in the newsroom. The bin will be opened from time to time so that staffers may bid on any items, with the proceeds going to charity."So now that I'm a grown-up editor, I knew I had no choice with my $300 money order. And besides, if I'm lucky the insurance will help buy a new stereo once I get over the fear that someone will just try to steal it again. I've been broken into twice.But for a few minutes last week, well, it was kind of nice to know someone could be so nice.And since you -- whoever you are -- read last week's column, maybe you're reading this one, too.So thanks. Again.
Mark Schultz is the editor of The Chapel Hill News and the Orange editor of The News & Observer. Contact him at 932-2003 or email@example.com