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Taking Back the News

Let me ask you a question: When was the last time you saw something positive on the news? And I mean something genuinely positive — not “Muffy the Wonder Pony Turns 100” or some other treacly crap. When was the last time you saw a true story of courage, or nobility, or kindness…or at least one that wasn’t blatantly sensationalist and opportunistic?

Yeah, me either.

That wouldn’t bother me so much if I weren’t confronted by ordinary goodness every single day. I look at CNN or Yahoo News or the local paper and I think, “The real world isn’t like that. Things are not this bad. They just aren’t.”

Do bad things happen in the world? Yes, of course. Sure they do. They happen all the time. But they aren’t the only thing happening, and they aren’t even the most common thing. Humans are, by and large, good people. The problem is, our brain is wired in such a way that only the exceptions stand out. Which means that only the exceptions are “newsworthy.”

Do the bad things happening in our world need to be talked about? Absolutely. We should be aware of events in our community, whether that community is our immediate neighborhood or the entire freakin’ planet. But here’s my question: Do they need to be the only thing talked about?

I say no. I say the reason we see only the bad news is that only the exceptions sell — and the news media has to sell ads to survive. We are fascinated by train wrecks and car crashes, so the news feeds us an endless stream of train wrecks and car crashes, hoping we won’t change the channel.

I say: enough.

I’m tired of it. It’s depressing, a bombardment of negativity that gives us an utterly skewed view of the world, from our perception of people in far-off lands to the fact that OH MY GOD A PREDATOR COULD LEARN YOUR CHILD’S BIRTHDAY BY HACKING HIS DS OVER WIFI!!!!!!! EVERYBODY PANIC!!!! (When I was a kid, we roamed the neighborhood from dawn until the streetlights came on. Now there is a predator behind every bush. Has the world changed that much in 25 years? No, it hasn’t. We just hear more about the bad shit that goes down. We hear more about the exceptions to the general okay-ness of people.)

And on top of this, there’s this sudden proliferation of websites devoted to letting you tattle on strangers anonymously. Don’t like someone’s driving? Post their license plate online! Think someone was speaking too loudly on their cell phone? Post all the personal details you overheard! (Yes, because the simple human exchange of walking up to the person and saying, “Excuse me, are you aware you’re speaking very loudly?” would be so far out of the question. Because you might get shot, of course. Or sued! Let me ask you a question: Out of all the people you personally know, how many have been shot, or sued? Yeah, exactly.)

So: enough.

I propose that the news media has got the job of circulating the bad news pretty well covered. So let’s take on the job of circulating the rest of the news ourselves.

Here’s what I’d like for you to do. Take a moment and think about something kind, or honorable, or just plain good you’ve seen someone do recently. It didn’t have to happen to you, and it could even have been you doing it, if you’re comfortable with blowing your own horn. Think of something you saw recently that made you think well of humanity. Then write about it. You can just drop a comment on this post, or write in your own blog and leave me a link.

I’m sick of hearing only bad things about other people. Aren’t you? Let’s do something about it.

I’ll start:

One of my favorite bands of all time was called Jawbox. The primary singer and guitarist was J. Robbins. These days he does a ton of really excellent producing work (he’s maybe even produced bands you’ve heard of, like the Promise Ring) and also plays in a band called Channels with his wife. Last year they had a child named Cal. It turns out that Cal has a pretty serious, and generally fatal, neurological disease for which there is no known cure. So his former bandmates, who now own a small record label, put up a post on their website about it, and took it upon themselves to ask for donations to help Cal’s parents with the astronomical medical costs.

Shortly thereafter, J. posted this on his blog: “Our great friends Kim Coletta and Bill Barbot took the step of setting up a donation page for Callum on the DeSoto Records website back in December, which has opened the door to an incredible surge of goodwill and support from friends and acquaintances around the world. It’s given us energy and resources to move forward that we simply wouldn’t have otherwise, and it’s hard to find the words to express our gratitude. We both dream of a day when we can try to explain to Cal how, when he was just a baby, so many people rallied to give him a shot at a better way forward.”

Here’s an excerpt from a more recent post: “A bunch of friends did benefit shows for Cal this weekend: Nick Pimentel and the Owls and Crows folks did one in DC; Jessica Hopper organized one at the Empty Bottle in Chicago with Bobby Conn, our pals in the Life and Times, and Red Eyed Legends; and our old friends at North Six in Brooklyn put on a show with Ted Leo, Medications, the Forms, and Last Letters. Cal is so lucky, and we are so lucky, to have these friends and this kind of support. I don’t know how we will ever be able to thank people for the kindness they are showing. I don’t see how Callum will ever grow up to be a proper cynical punk rocker, since he is already experiencing undeniable proof that at least some people are essentially good at heart.”

It is terrible and tragic that a child should suffer this sort of disease. But it is beautiful and moving that so many should come together to support him and his family.

Your turn.