I was at the gym early one morning this week, sweating and huffing on one of the cardio machines in the long rows in front of the televisions. I always bring an electronic book to read to survive the monotony, but I must admit that the televisions—even though they are silent and force me to read the closed captioning—conspire to distract me occasionally (and by that I mean often). At that awful hour of the morning—well before humans should be conscious, in my opinion—the programming is simple: news shows and more news shows. It is how I learned all about Fox News (and now I can understand the fascinating political views of my parents, who let the TVs in their house run all day–you think I am kidding, but I am not—on that channel). It is also how I learn about the stuff my local stations are covering.
Well, on this particular morning, I glanced up from my book as a story was just beginning on one of the local morning shows. There were high school students in a classroom, and a happy teacher was dancing. As I read the closed captioning along the bottom, it revealed a story about this teacher, who was winning an award for his outstanding work. He was a Spanish teacher, and he talked about using his class to bring cultures together and promoting greater understanding and cooperation. He seemed to truly love his work and his students. It all seemed very uplifting.
The story really struck me. Not because inspiring teachers are rare in the world—indeed, I believe stories like that could be found in any school—but because hearing about them in the news is rare. I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, “Yes! This is what I want my news stories to be about! Show me more!” Then, of course, the story ended, and they went back to the usual fodder of murders, drug busts, and political scandals. Slowly, that little fire that had ignited in me was snuffed out. Even a glance over to the headlines on the television showing Fox News couldn’t get me inspired again—big shock there, I know—and so my eyes drifted back to my book and my mind cocooned around itself again. That was enough news for me. I was sufficiently disheartened and disgusted by the stream of headlines and stories that flooded the screens.
Historically, I have a pretty rocky relationship with the news media, whether in print or on television. For many years now, I have mostly made it a habit of avoiding the evening news. If I do happen to be in the room when the television is on—such as when I am visiting my parents—I can get through the first few stories before my brain starts to withdraw and let me know it is time to move on. Almost invariably, it is something bloody—a murder, a war, a crash—or something scandalous and divisive. The old news adage “If it bleeds, it leads” has never gone out of style. So we get this onslaught of death, deception, and destruction right from the get-go. It is no wonder when we imagine reporters looking for stories, we picture them sitting around in front of a police scanner, listening for trouble.
At this point in my life, though, I just don’t want to listen to it. I have only so much time and so much attention span, and I don’t want either to be filled by negativity, violence, and discord. I have had people try to shame me into watching the news, like, “How will you ever know what is going on in the world?” They accuse me of burying my head in the sand, pretending the world and its people are much better than they really are. If only I would watch the news, they say, I would have a much more realistic view of life. Perhaps I would stop being so idealistic, so hopeful.
No, thanks. I’ll pass.
And anyway, it is not as though I don’t watch any news. I just pick and choose my sources and how much of my energy I want to devote to them. And I trust my intuition to know when I have had too much, even from the sources I respect. I know enough about what’s happening in the world. I just choose not to linger in the swampy part, the part that the news media seems to call “Home.”
But what if the inspiring story of the high school Spanish teacher was not so rare that its presence startled me? What if the big headlines were the positive ones? What if the in-depth, exposé-type features were not about mafia leaders or corporate scams, but rather about individuals in our communities who are shining examples of courage and kindness, or who go above and beyond in order to bring different groups together? These could be the front-page stories rather than the ones that barely make it into the back pages of a newspaper or only onto the super-early local morning show.
I am brainstorming now, so stick with me (and hopefully help me out with some responses). Let’s say I started a news outlet—we’ll say an online platform to begin with, using a website, maybe a YouTube channel, and social media—that covered all of the things I want to focus on in my community. I live in the suburbs of a pretty big city, so let’s say we are talking about the entire metropolitan area. That gives us a lot of territory to cover as reporters, but also lots of potential stories to tell and lives to touch. So, where should be start?
I am looking to profile the people who are the best examples of all the things that most of us feel are gravely lacking in our world today: kindness, empathy, courage, optimism, joy, open-mindedness, forgiveness, gratitude, and inclusion? I want to share how these people are not only wonderful examples for us to emulate in our own little corners of the world, but also how they might be joined by good people like us, who may have something to add to their efforts. I am also looking for community events that are designed to foster these same traits. I don’t want celebrities. I want regular humans like you and like me. We are the ones who are overwhelmed by the flood of negative news today, to the point of feeling helpless to make a difference. My news outlet is to show us that we can make a difference, that we have influence and we can use it to make our spheres of influence more open, cohesive, and joyous.
I imagine a story about that high school Spanish teacher. I imagine another story like the one this Summer in Wichita, Kansas, when what was originally planned as a protest against police violence toward communities of color became the First Steps Community Cookout, a barbecue where police and community members ate, talked, listened, and played basketball together. I imagine a story like the one I read recently about how the members of a Christian church and a neighboring Muslim mosque in Memphis have moved from a place of fear to one of community. I imagine profiles of volunteers at homeless shelters, food shelves, and senior centers. I see a calendar of events that bring people together across difference. I see a listing of opportunities to help others who could use your time and skills to better themselves and our community.
I like this vision! This is a news outlet I could actually watch every day. Sure, I know there will always be the other, more negative stuff going on in the world, and there will always be other reporters covering it. But maybe if you and I put our heads together, we could tell the stories that might turn the tide a little, maybe bring some light into our little corners of the world. I could go for that!
How about you? What kind of news do you want to hear about? Open up your journal and think about the stories that help you to feel the way you want to feel and know what you need to know. What are your primary news outlets right now: local television, cable news, newspapers, magazines, websites, Facebook shares and comments, Twitter, talk radio? Do you prefer to watch videos or to read stories? What type of stories do you end up gravitating toward most? Do you like the bloody stuff? Do scandals and scams satisfy you? How about celebrity gossip type of stories? Politics? What about the feel-good, uplifting type of stories that I am talking about? Does that stuff do anything for you? Does it deserve more air time, or is it not really newsworthy? Do you like the general way that televisions news seems to prioritize stories: leading and filling most of the time with the blood and the drama, and only occasionally having a special report on a person or event doing inspirational, difference-making work in the community? If you could join me in starting my news agency, what are the stories you would like told? Are there people that you are aware of in your community who deserve to be highlighted? Which of the positive characteristics I mentioned above– kindness, empathy, courage, optimism, joy, open-mindedness, forgiveness, gratitude, or inclusion—are they the best examples of? Which types of positive people or events in your community are the least publicized? Why is that? Tell me the truth: is there a place in our society—or at least in your community—for a type of positive news outlet like this? Would you be a regular reader or viewer if it existed? Is it the kind of organization you would like to work for? I am actually serious about this project, so I would appreciate your feedback. Leave me a reply and let me know: What stories do you want the media to cover more?
Shine your light,
P.S. If this got you thinking more discerningly about your media habits and priorities, I would be grateful if you would pass it on. Let’s shine together!