First of all, a confession. I live in Howard County. Full employment. High income. My wife and I have given up long ago trying to find a neighborhood kid to do yard work. My guess is they’re too busy washing the hand-me-down BMWs and Subarus their parents give them. When I grew up, I saved my lawn mowing and snow shoveling money to buy an old two-door Ford Falcon with three gears on the column and a bench seat. Girls you were dating would sit next to you back in those days.
Howard County has a very low crime rate. Sharp looking, very polite county police drive around in hot, unmarked muscle cars and impressive SUVs.
Like many Americans, I get most of my news from things that have screens. From CNN for national, mostly Trump-related political news. From notices on my phone and laptop from the Washington Post and New York Times. From the network evening news. From NPR when I’m in the car. From reading the front page or two of the Baltimore Sun’s e-paper. And from watching the first 10 to 15 minutes of WBAL-TV 11 news. After that, it’s all weather and traffic.
I listen to or read all this stuff while I’m working at my desk, driving, waiting for lunch in the drive-in line at Chick-fil-A, eating at home and/or working on something job-related. I am, in other words, a headlines kind of guy and barely paying attention at that. And that’s how I form my impression of what’s going on in the world and my community. I’m not proud of this, but, the fact is, we Americans live in a world that is all about “breaking news.”
And this would be fine if, in fact, media coverage were balanced. But it’s not. Don’t believe me? Watch WBAL-TV 11 for example. Without exaggeration, the first stories are always about shootings and other mayhem in Baltimore. Literally, the first five to ten minutes of the half hour are spent telling us about violent and other negative stories – recently including the Catherine Pugh mess – that would discourage anyone from visiting the city, let alone living there. And people wonder why Baltimore continues to lose population. And why there’s far less interest in Baltimore on the part of most area consumers who would rather shop anywhere else for their goods and services.
Does nothing good ever happen in Baltimore? Nothing positive, maybe even inspiring? To watch the local TV news, you’d think that life in Baltimore is nothing but violence and other bad news. Unfortunately, the violence is real. No one’s suggesting that the media is making any of this up. And it’s awful, but is it, in and of itself, an accurate portrayal of Baltimore City? Or is it just better for ratings than talking about the good things that are happening in the city – and that are even more impressive given the context of where they are occurring which is often difficult at best?
Where’s the balance?
Cities are a lot like people. They can get caught in a downward psychological spiral of their own making. Problems can be overwhelming, taking from them the promise and the confidence they need to rise up and improve their situation.
Am I suggesting that the local media fake it? Gloss over all the bad stuff that really is happening to paint a picture of Baltimore that isn’t realistic? No. Of course not. What I’m saying is that there is more to life in the city than what the media are telling us. Most of what they’re not showing you is good, reassuring and often inspiring.
The good news may be harder, more time consuming, even more expensive to research and report. And good news certainly isn’t as visceral and attention-getting as shots fired at a neighborhood barbeque or, heaven forbid, images of innocent children being wounded or worse. But then good, uplifting news is just as real. More to the point, it has the effect of giving viewers and readers a more honest, more accurate sense of city life, while encouraging the purpose and hope that will eventually make Baltimore an even better place to live and work for all its families.
Maybe WBAL-TV and the other stations could lead with a good news story every once in a while.