Local journalist serves community

At work, Tom Smith frequently holds two phones to expedite his research process. Smith covers 39 law enforcement and emergency management agencies in Northwest Alabama and Southern Tennessee for the TimesDaily.

Parents and those in the armed forces are who typically come to mind with the thought of “heroes.”

For those armed with pencils, notebooks, cameras and multiple phones, being a hero often goes unnoticed.

“You ever watch those crime shows on TV — “NCIS,” “Law and Order” or something like that? I kind of do what they do without a gun and a badge,” said Tom Smith, crime reporter for TimesDaily. “I’ve seen a lot of things and done a lot of things most people haven’t.”

Smith began his career at TimesDaily in the mail room in 1972. In 1990 he began working in the newsroom.

He has solely covered the paper’s crime beat that includes 39 law enforcement and emergency management agencies in northwest Alabama and southern Tennessee since 2005.

“There’s an element — good, bad or indifferent — in our society that’s going to be involved in unlawful things,” Smith said. “Most people are generally good, and they want to keep that element out of their lives and out of their homes.”

He said reporting crime is important because an informed public is one that can protect itself from harm.

“If there’s a guy who knocks on my door one night and my wife’s there and she goes to see who it is, she won’t open it if she’s seen them in the paper before,” he said.

TimesDaily Lifestyles Editor Teri Thornton, who has worked with Smith for more than 30 years, said he thinks of every community member like his own family.

“Tom has such compassion,” Thornton said. “He loves his family— he’s a family man. Tom’s one of the few people I would trust with my life.”

Thornton said while many people are bogged down by the stresses of the job, Smith maintains a positive outlook.

“It’s always amazing to me that Tom has such amazing Christian values, and you would think someone covering the crime beat would start to doubt his faith,” she said. “It’s even become stronger. It helps him dealing with the victims of crime. It’s not an easy job to talk to their family members, especially in a murder case.”

Smith said he does it because the public has a right and a need to know what is happening in their communities.

“Would you want a murderer living next to you?” he said. “Would you want someone who was convicted of a sex crime living next to your family, especially if you’ve got small children?”

Smith has also become a respected member of the community among law enforcement officers and sources.

“He’s one of the most trustworthy people I know,” said Colbert County Sheriff Ronnie May. “I would trust him with any case I’ve got.”

May said anytime his department has needed the media’s help in finding a suspect, Smith has provided any assistance he could.

“In any investigation where I needed certain things put out for help, he was easy to talk with and seemed to understand the significance of what we were doing,” May said. “He’s accurate in what he reports. He’s not looking to blow something out of proportion or use exaggerated terms to describe something.”