When I was a kid growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts, my parents watched the local news every night. It included the latest headlines, the weather, a heartwarming story and often times an update from the latest city council meeting. In the morning before school we would listen to local AM radio station WLLH for another daily dose of the news and weather. I remember a segment called “Cop or No Cop” where they would have locals call in and “report” if they saw a police car parked outside Dunkin’ Donuts locations around the neighborhood! Classic stuff!
I recently participated as a panel guest at my local news station, WUSA Channel 9, in Washington, DC. It was posted on a neighborhood list-serve and said they were looking for “a diverse group of people from DC, MD and VA—willing to volunteer two hours of their time and be part of an upcoming news story [about] the world’s only computer software program that tracks child predators in real time.”
It sounded like an interesting opportunity and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the sentence “Volunteers must be willing to be on camera” caught my eye. I had only watched the Channel 9 news a handful of times while at a friend’s house but after poking around their website I decided to go for it.
The vibe was informal and welcoming. They would be demonstrating the software via a live webinar while asking the group questions to gauge our response. Some of the content was hard to watch and we all had physical, visceral reactions when we saw, live on the map, the location of predators and the names of the files/photos they were in possession of and sharing. I’m not going to dig any deeper into that subject other than to share the name of the company that has created this technology, which is provided at no cost to law enforcement. To learn more visit https://childrescuecoalition.org/.
What I do want to talk about is the local news.
The news, in general, has become a source of stress and even trauma these days. What once brought my family together in our sunken living room in anticipation of Jeopardy now seems to divide. What was once a comforting ritual of the American home has mutated into an unhealthy habit steeped in anxiety and obsession.
Our parents were limited to consuming the news from a few sources and we now, for better and worse, we have endless options. People have access to news from all different national and international sources like CNN, The Guardian, BBC, FOX, etc. We are also consuming our news online via hubs like Huffington Post, VICE News, Mic, The Daily Beast, tweets, YouTube videos and our Facebook feeds. With the obvious proliferation of information in general, it can be hard to figure out how much or how little news to consume in order to feel educated with what’s going on in the world while not becoming consumed by it.
“Since most of us “get” our news online, not from our local news stations and familiar anchors, I wonder if it allows us to be more desensitized to what we are seeing?”
To contrast, I want to jump back to my experience at WUSA9. I met Investigative Reporter Andrea McCarren, winner of 21 Emmy Awards, and heard about her own personal big news. She had just received word that the sweet yellow lab, Bunce, that she had been raising and training for almost two years to become a service dog for a wounded warrior was ready to serve his mission. Some might argue that local news is out-of-date and I would disagree whole-heartedly. It was all so personal and real: Walking into the news building. Watching the production team set up. Meeting and chatting with the other parents. I felt a sense of partnership in the news. I felt heard and valued for my contribution and I’m here to remind you that your local news stations want to hear from the community.
In a world where many of us feel increasingly powerless and defunct, joining this guest panel was the exact opposite. Our local news provides much more of a two-way conversation than YouTube or HuffPo ever will via their toxic comments sections.
So what’s next? Here’s are 3 steps you can take to incorporate more local information into your news routine and consumption:
Step #1 – Start by reading the bios of the reporters and anchors at the local network(s) of your preference. These men and women are seasoned, decorated professionals that are obsessed with what’s happening in your community.
Step #2 – Follow your local reporters and anchors via social media. You will be surprised how creative and relevant their posts are to your day-to-day life.
Step #3 – Tell them what matters to you! Is there an unsafe intersection in your neighborhood that you think should have a stop sign? Email them! Are you unhappy with the school lunch options at your child’s school? Take a picture and tag them in it! Were you inspired by a recent segment? Thank them!
Somehow, despite my frustration with the present political climate, my experience with WUSA9 gave me a much needed sense of satisfaction. Many of my friends are looking for constructive ways to manage their own frustration. Perhaps increasing your own awareness and support of local news is one way that you encouragement and reassurance that your community is strong and that there is a way forward.