Tuesday, March 15, 2011

If It Bleeds, It Leads

One of my sisters is a journalism major, and when discussing television news, she often laughs and says,
"Oh, if it bleeds, it leads!"

Television is such a visual medium that, by its very nature, can't objectively report news. As a journalism major, who has dabbled in the field but seldom actually made a living in it, my sister once told me that she records the evening local news, two hours per day, each week, and reviews it in an hour or two on Saturday morning. She's right, of course, the stories and film clips are recycled so often that there are only enough actual new items to fill a two-hour per week broadcast. My sister's method makes for much more balanced coverage of the "news" since she is not bombarded by the same stories over and over. Just like viewing a commercial for a candy bar three times an hour can lead to a trip to the store for chocolate, seeing the same news clip once an hour for three days can make a natural disaster into Armageddon.

Worse, there are many news stories which ought to lead, but recently, the most visual (and loud, of course) stories were the "lead" items.

Charlie Sheen, with broken teeth and loud expressions of ego-centric rage, was the lead story for a few days. Important? Too those with only a few portions of gray matter still functioning, perhaps.

The New York City bus crash? A human tragedy, to be sure, but it was leading because it was bleeding. No doubt the driver was tired and dozed off. It probably happens every day, somewhere, but because there were many folks on the bus, it was visually stunning, so it became a lead story.

Japan's earthquake aftermath should be a "lead" story. But, the constant emphasis on the "nuclear" disaster is a bit misleading, if you'll pardon the pun. There is not going to be a Chernobyl situation in Japan, because the nuclear reactors there were built to withstand most problems, and the containment devices are working fairly well, given the trying circumstances of the earthquake and tsunami. If Japan had used coal or oil to generate electricity, there would have been problems with that as well. The microscope of television news is making the problem(s) associated with radiation appear much, much worse than they actually are. Right now, the Japanese need clean water, food, and shelter; and hopefully, Americans will do what they usually do, and provide aid to a nation in need.

There is much good going on in the world, but it doesn't bleed, therefore it does not lead. For example, legislatures across this country are attempting to deal with illegal immigration by enacting laws which attempt to verify citizenship (and therefore harass non-citizens) and those actions are misguided. Most of us "Americans" came from somewhere else and became Americans. On my way to work, I pass by a church which has a huge sign out front, touting "Free Classes in English and Citizenship." That church, with its parking lot filled with cars of those who want to become citizens, is doing more to help the immigration problem by helping assimilate immigrants than all of the legislatures combined. But the efforts of these kind Christians won't make the news, because doing good is not a lead story.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Doing Business in "Our Town"

I have lived for most of my life in or near the same small town in northeastern Georgia. As I write this entry, there are big holes in what used to be parking lots and sidewalks "on the square." The most common sign in the windows reads "For Lease" and the second most common one reads, "We are Still Open." Oh, there will no doubt be pictures in the paper and even online when the project, which has gone on for several months, is finally finished. But our downtown will need to be like the phoenix of classical literature and arise from its own ashes, because right now there are few cars and fewer customers in the older part of town, just because someone somewhere got a grant to upgrade the street scape.

Speaking of grants, our town recently got a grant to plant trees on public property. Interestingly, they planted trees in some of the same spots where we used to have trees, but the various public works employees cut those down because they got too big or were in the way of cutting the grass with a big mower. I wonder how long these saplings will be allowed to live. Will they last more than a decade before they are "in the way" and become mulch?

Despite the oddities of parking, "foliage festivals," and sidewalks going nowhere, I usually enjoy shopping in our small town. The farm supply stores are my favorites. They are on opposite sides of town, and they stock interesting stuff and have friendly service. Did you break the handle in your shovel? No need for a new one, you can get a dandy replacement handle on the western side of town. Need some mulch? Save some gas and pick up a load on the eastern side of town. Either way, the folks who help you will make it seem more like a social occasion than a mere purchase. These places beat Home Depot and Lowe's in customer service, even if they lack all of the merchandise of those big box stores.

The ladies in our local post office are amazing. They actually thank customers for their business. I mean, I have never heard "thanks" at other government spots, such as the DMV or the tax office. The latter is ironic, because the county tax office gets ten times more money on the day when I pay the car taxes than the post office gets from me in a year, but the post office folks are much, much more friendly.

We have too many banks and too little service, however. This is really odd, because all banks do exactly the same thing, and the only real difference is location and/or service. When I go to mine, one of seven within the city limits, I think these folks have about as much enthusiasm for their work as I did for shoveling out chicken manure when I was growing up. If it wasn't so darned much trouble to change the automatic deposits and debits, I would change to an internet bank. There would be no social value to banking solely online, but it would save gas, and there is no social value to banking in this burg.

There are three main "grocery" stores in our town, and I can often tell whom I will meet in any of the three, based upon the age of the customer. The smaller store that has been here for many years is where I will invariably find the older folks. The mid-sized grocery which opened about ten years ago is my favorite, and I often see people in their middle years there. It is big enough to have most products necessary, but lacks the crowds of the favorite store of the younger set, which is located on the "bypass" and is not really in town at all. The service mirrors the clientele, in that the old store is very friendly, the middle one is sorta friendly, and the big newer one could care less if I shop there or not, because hundreds of other folks are going to be there before the day is done.

Small stores are like small towns, where folks know each other, and doing business there is generally a pleasant experience.

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Blooms and Trash

Wow, I had forgotten just how many days have passed since my last entry. Nothing's wrong, but I have had a busy quarter at school, so I my reading has been rather limited. Soon, I will have another book review, but in the mean time, I will share one of my activities. 

Since I know that good health requires exercise, I have been going outside in our early spring weather. The daffodils are blooming nicely, and the vinca has never looked better. Our three Bradford pear trees are about to make a wonderful showing, as is the tulip tree. But, after the winter, I always end up with some chores, such as cutting back the junipers and crepe myrtles, picking up sticks, and in front of our house, picking up the trash. Yes, trash. I have the misfortune of living on a main road (didn't used to be) and folks do litter.

I've picked up many "scratch off" lottery tickets, but I kinda hate to complain, since Georgia's lottery funds the vast majority of technical school student tuition. Complaining about those would be rather like biting the hand that feeds, and I have better sense. Wadded up wrappers from Mickey D's are usually in the trash bag as well. Makes me wonder what is it about Mickey D's customer base that makes them trashier than the rest of the fast food nation. As usual, I found a couple of styrofoam cups clinging to the weeds near the woods. There are usually some receipts, flyers, and an occasional home burned CD. Actually, it is interesting, because I read the trash. I read everything, and my students are usually amazed that I read every word of their papers.

My favorite bit of recent trash was a pharmacy bag from a nearby Kroger. One of my fellow Jeffersonians, whom I do know slightly, tossed away his Cialis paperwork. He's probably in his sixties now, so I guess he needs a little help. Well, I hope he and the lady of his choosing had a nice weekend.

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