Over the past three months, Seattle Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer has chronicled the trials and travails of a Federal Way, Wash., girl, afflicted by a terminal cancer, and her family. (Installments of the series, titled "A Prayer for Gloria," are here, here, here, and here.) The series is much more than the usual empathetic-but-detached account of personal struggle. In a very personal way, it deals with religious faith, family ties, and the proximity of journalists and their subjects. The patient, Gloria Strauss, is 11 and the second-oldest of seven children in a Catholic family. Brewer's involvement with the family began when an editor tipped him off to the story of Gloria's father, Doug, the head basketball coach for Kennedy High School in Federal Way. What originally was intended as a sports-oriented story focusing on Doug Strauss turned into a much more searching examination of the choices families make when faced with death. Brewer argues that this changed format has allowed the stories to overcome the often-simplistic narratives of triumph over tragedy that he is familiar with as a sports writer. Gloria is ill with neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that originates in the nervous system. It is found in children, often as young as 2 years old, and is thought to originate in faulty cell growth in the adrenal glands. Though many patients can overcome it if treated early, it becomes very difficult to treat in later stages and has a high mortality rate. Gloria was diagnosed at age 7 and has since been through multiple courses of chemotherapy and has tried experimental drugs. The cancer has continued to metastasize, and at this point Gloria's doctors believe that she has only months if not weeks to live. The articles Brewer has written are only one part of the story, however; in addition to the installments for the print version of the Times, he has also kept an online journal describing in more depth his own feelings about the process. Other resources available on the Times Web site include photo galleries, an audio slide show, an interview with Gloria, and a forum where readers can respond and pass on messages to her and her family. The series comes at a time when daily newspapers are struggling to find ways to adapt to the Internet age, amid dire warnings of declining print circulation and ad revenue. Both the Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have managed to perform fairly well in this new climate, ranking 16th and 18th, respectively, among U.S. newspaper Web sites with the most visits in May. Even so, it remains to be seen how much newspapers will have to adapt their writing style and format to better reach electronic audiences. As blogs have taken off spectacularly in recent years, Internet users have gotten used to a more personal, opinionated level of discourse; traditional newspapers have so far, with some exceptions, avoided this in the news columns. Both the Times and the P-I host blogs, of course, but they are clearly segregated from other, more-traditional content. Brewer's articles, as printed and posted online, are a departure from the standard newspaper tone. They are filled with introspection, and he grapples with the emotions of Gloria and her family. Stories about cancer patients are by no means rare. However, the vast majority fall into one of two categories: human interest stories about survivors, or large-scale looks at methods of treatment or special programs. Stories that tackle the emotions of a patient and a family facing terminal illness are extremely rare, perhaps because of the emotional toll on subjects and reporter alike. Brewer says that his editors have been very supportive, helping him figure out how to present the story in a straightforward style that avoids overwrought language while allowing the family to speak for itself. Brewer is open about this departure from the usual standard of detachment. In the journal that accompanies the other content online, he writes that the goal has been "to make readers care about Gloria and her family." The columns display unvarnished emotion, and quite often the family members speak for themselves, recounting fears and doubts as well as hopes. Brewer notes that the family has been "pretty much an open book" as far as sharing their lives, emotions, and beliefs with him. The series has also highlighted a somewhat fraught issue for news coverage, that of religious faith. The Strauss family is devoutly Catholic, and their faith reaches even to their treatment of Gloria's mortality; they fervently believe that she will be cured by a miracle. As the illness has progressed, they have received support in the form of prayer and financial aid from their community. Rather than merely stating that the family's faith is part of their lives, Brewer shows how it pervades their actions and their feelings toward the illness. The emotionally involved narrative of faith and pain stand in contrast to typical human interest stories, in that the poor medical prognosis in this case is often obscured by the belief of the Strauss family that God will intervene in Gloria's deteriorating condition. Brewer's proximity to the family and their emotions is clear; he writes in his journal that "I want them to get their miracle." As Gloria's condition has worsened, Brewer's writing has become steadily more downbeat; a recent installment dealt with the decreasing ability of medication to relieve Gloria's pain. Whatever comes, Brewer's close, heartfelt look at the suffering of Gloria and her family has made this particular case of childhood illness relevant to the lives of numerous readers.