Do Better December 8th 2014 Garbage In Garbage Out

8 Dec

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Normally, I’m someone who reads every night before I go to bed, but I rarely read fiction because I tend to get caught up in the plot and read well beyond my bedtime. That was great when I was young, but when a job and children came along, it just wasn’t practical. I quit reading for a while, but I missed it, so I started reading non-fiction. The trouble with most of what I read is that it rattled around in my brain all night and invaded my dreams. If I watched the nightly news, it was even worse. The images would sometimes haunt my dreams and even keep me awake at night. As a mom of three very active boys, it was not a good scenario to go to sleep with visions of murder, war and crisis on my mind, only to wake up tired and cranky about it all, so I changed what I did.

First, I stopped watching any news, even the early edition. When I did that, years ago, everyone was shocked. People would ask me how I would stay informed. I told them I chose to read what interested me and left the rest behind. I also told them that when I thought about it, if anything important happened, someone would tell me. This was before CNN, Fox News and MSNBC were the monoliths they were now. This was when we had local news for 30 minutes at 6:00pm and 11:00pm, with 30 minutes of national news at 6:30pm. We didn’t have cable, so I didn’t even have the option to watch 24 hour news, and I’m so glad I didn’t. Have you ever thought about the news? Who decided it had to be bad? Who decided that for every twenty negative stories that there would be one happy one so that humanity didn’t lose all hope? Who decided that we needed to re-hash the same stories over and over from a different angle and reach the same conclusion based on our politics? From where I’m sitting, it looks like a bunch of station owners who want ratings and money. Yes, they tell us they are providing a service, but by thinking that what they broadcast or even print is the truth, no matter which one you choose to pay attention to, is treading on thin ice indeed.

In college, I was a writer for my college newspaper, which came out weekly. I’m dating myself, but I was writing for the paper less than a decade after Watergate. Most of what we wrote about was the usual college fodder, and I was the Fine Arts editor, so other than an occasional mediocre review of a play, it was also mostly informative rather than salacious. One year, during a party, a freshman, who was below the drinking age, got so drunk that in the middle of the night, she thought she was going to the bathroom when she was actually climbing out her window, which was a four story drop. She was found by one of the student staff members, half clothed, who thought she had been assaulted and who picked her up and carried her into the safety of the building where he called for an ambulance. Needless to say, she was a mess. She had broken several bones, including her ribs and facial bones. She had very little memory of anything that had happened other than getting up to go to the bathroom and waking up in a hospital, battered and bruised.

When the news editors found out about the story, they were almost giddy. They saw this as an opportunity to write an in depth series on, not only the girl, but also on the alcohol culture of the campus. They intended to find out everyone who was involved and expose them in the most unpleasant manner, and the first thing they would do was identify the girl. Thankfully, I was not the only person who thought this was a bad idea, so we called a meeting of the Editorial Board. We argued for hours over this story. One of the Resident Advisors was a friend of mine, who was responsible for arranging the party, but had nothing to do with the alcohol. If her name had been printed, she would have removed from her position and possibly lost her aid and her chance at a college education, all because someone else had provided the alcohol at a social event she had helped plan. Then we had to discuss the girl who had fallen. She was eighteen, so we could legally use her name as well, but doing so would have dire consequences for the University as well as the girl. The girls’ parents found out that the newspaper was planning the story and was planning to print the girls’ name. They informed the University that if the girls’ name was used, they would sue the University and all parties involved who served their underage daughter alcohol. Armed with all of that information, we set to discussing and arguing our cases about how to proceed. That was the day I found out I would never be a journalist.

To some of the editorial staff, it was all about the headlines. They could feel the rush of exposing the name of the girl and all involved. They got a thrill from having information that others didn’t have and sharing it. They even thought about how their story might get attention from surrounding cities and might be picked up by some of their newspapers as well. For them, it was all about how it could put them, our newspaper and our campus in the spotlight. For others of us, it was bigger than that. For us, it was about the gravity of what we were about to do. If we printed the girls’ name, we knew she would not come back to school. It was a small campus, and she didn’t want people pointing and gossiping about her for the rest of her time on campus. She was mortified that she was found half clothed and because of the damage to her face, she was devastated that she would look different for the rest of her life. Printing her name would only add to that devastation, and it was too much for her to bear. Then there were the others involved. The student staff members would all lose their positions. They would also possibly have to leave school. We were about to change the lives of several people for the worse, just because of a college newspaper article. It didn’t seem fair, and it didn’t seem right.

I know we need to be accountable for our actions. Ask people who know me, and they’ll tell you that I am adamant about that, but for that young woman, her physical injuries would be a lifelong reminder of what she did. For the staff members, they were forever changed, and the University changed its policies on party protocol in the dorms. There were consequences. There were changes made. Everyone got to go on with their lives and only a few college newspaper editors were upset that we didn’t print the young woman’s name, but I learned several valuable lessons from that situation. I learned, as I said, that I would never be a hard hitting journalist. For me, the human factor would always be there. I would think about the families of the perpetrator or the accused. I would understand how painful it was for them to see their loved one suffer, even if they were guilty. I learned that my tender heart would never allow me to ruin someone’s life, especially if they were only related to a story and not the story itself. The other thing I learned was that there is no such thing as unbiased news. There is no news agency on this Earth that is without an agenda because human beings all have one. Some may think that they only present the facts, but listen to the words they use. Adjectives change everything. There is a difference when you say someone discharged a firearm, shot someone or gunned them down. There is a difference when you say someone was assaulted, beaten or brutally attacked. There is a tone from the words that each journalist chooses and there is a tone from the stories that are chosen.

This weekend, I was privileged to attend the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was an early Christmas present from my oldest son for me and my middle son since we are all college football fans. We also happen to be OSU fans, so it was even more exciting to go to the game. Even before things started, the atmosphere in the stadium was amazing. The fans from both teams believed that their team would win and were pumped up for the game. For those of us who are Buckeye fans, it was a very different game than for those who were Wisconsin fans, and I would bet the news stories in Madison, Wisconsin were very different from those in Columbus, Ohio, even though the event was the same. I’ll bet the adjectives were different and so was the tone and I would bet the length of the story was different as well.

You know what’s amazing? This can all translate to everyday life. Every situation is a chance for us to decide how to look at life. You can look at a challenging morning as a reason to be upset or a lesson in developing patience. You can look at a driver who cuts you off as an idiot who needs to remove their head from a certain part of their anatomy or you can look at it as an opportunity to pray for someone who is either distracted or so far from their own kindness that they most certainly need prayer. You can choose to turn your TV to one of the news channels and fill your head with the stories they tell you are important to pay attention to, or you can decide to read the stories in your local paper, online or forgo them all together. Pay attention to what you choose because that becomes your life and your legacy. You can pay attention to all of the bad in the world and think the world is a scary and unhappy place, or you can go to work making your part of the world a safe and happy place even if it is only within your four walls. It’s up to you. Am I being simplistic? Yes, but sometimes the best answers are the simplest. For me, making my part of the world a safer and happier place includes doing a load of laundry so my family has clean clothes to wear and fantastic smelling towels to use after a shower. It will also include spending a few minutes in each bathroom making sure that they sparkle and shine. It will mean running my Swiffer vacuum and hopefully mopping my floors since they really need it, and finally, it will be taking an opportunity to make a few phone calls and file some paperwork that will help make the house look clear and inviting when my husband returns home late from a business trip tonight. Those will be my choices today so that my day is one filled with adjectives that make me smile rather than ones that I would rather throw in the trash.

I hope you have a day that lifts you up rather than leaves you in the dumps. There are only three and a half weeks left in this year. I hope that we can all live them extraordinarily well and leap into next year feeling fantastic. As always, thanks for being you and have a great day.


One Response to “Do Better December 8th 2014 Garbage In Garbage Out”


  1. Do Better December 8th 2014 Garbage In Garbage Out | karenbemmes aka Better Living Daily - December 8, 2014

    […] Do Better December 8th 2014 Garbage In Garbage Out. […]

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