If it loves, it leads

barista prayerIf it bleeds, it leads.

This may or may not be an actual quote from an anonymous newsman from an undetermined era working in an unknown newsroom. It doesn’t matter if these words were actually spoken or not. It is generally accepted as the defining attitude of journalists everywhere.

We are callused.

We are insensitive.

We are jaded.

We lack compassion.

We love the taste of blood. Someone else’s blood. Anyone else.

Some of the characterizations are deserved. To borrow from a Jimmy Buffett song, in my line of work, I seem to see a lot more than most. Witness enough tragedy, carry home enough second-hand grief, and you get heavy. Jaded happens. Weary from the work, some journalists do, indeed, forget about compassion and sensitivity. Others can’t lean on that excuse. Let’s face it, some people are just jerks. Reporters are people. There are a few who will salivate and high five over a plane crash. I have no explanation for that.

If it bleeds, it leads.

Boy, have I got a lead for you. This one will stem the bleeding.

News operations across the country have been telling the story of Pierce Dunn and Evan Freeman. They’re baristas in Vancouver, Washington, coffee mixologists working a cramped drive-thru during the morning rush. One morning, they encountered a woman who needed more than a triple mocha latte.

Barbara Danner was having a bad day. She broke down in the  Dutch Bros Coffee drive-thru, right in front of our friends Pierce and Evan. Not broke down as in her Volvo overheated, I mean broke down like emotional bankruptcy. She’d lost her husband the night before. She couldn’t move. At most drive-thrus, that would earn you an earful of horn and an offensive finger, maybe a free decaf.

Not at Dutch Bros.

“I was like, there’s nothing more you need to say,” said Pierce Dunn. “We got this. We’re going to do what we do every time we get someone who’s in pain or hurt. We’re going to give them our love.”

One of the drivers behind Danner snapped a picture of Pierce, Evan, and another employee with their heads bowed, their eyes closed, their hands comforting an overwhelmed widow. The coffee orders were put on hold while the group prayed. The baristas whipped up a Grande cup of peace and assurance.

The image of the caffeine-free group hug has gone viral. So have Pierce and Evan.

“If every single person did an act of kindness or just had a smile on their face, the world would be a completely different place,” said Dunn.

Who knew there was a coffee shop that served high octane moral guidance?

I don’t know what was going on the night reporters from Seattle and Portland covered this story. And they did cover it. It’s likely the 11 o’clock news kicked off with a scandal, a smash and grab, or a sizzling investigation. The drive-thru prayer probably played toward the end of the show. News producers like to leave you on a high note.

What if the producers put it at the top of the newscast? What if, for one night, compassion trumped car chases, decency outdid disaster, kindness was more important than a random killing?

What if?

“If every single person did an act of kindness, the world would be a completely different place.”

A different place.

I’ve worked with producers bold enough to start the news with a story like this. Realistically, you can’t do it on a night when there’s breaking disaster, or high drama in the courts, or shenanigans in the legislature. But there are days when the lead story is basically a repeat of what we’ve seen a million times before, and something like this…

A different place.

I would love to see it happen more often, a newscast where the lead story has sweat and tears.

But no blood.

Hard of hearing

mySuperLamePic_07503e78cc25a9ac1e8acbe63c909b6aMost of you will never have to deal with an intrusive news reporter. Unless you’ve done something noble and deserving of a public pat on the back, you’d likely prefer to avoid me and my ilk.

But there are people employed to deal with members of the media, Lord bless their souls. They are paid by private companies or governmental agencies to serve as a contact point for inquiring minds from the fourth estate. Sometimes, they are helpful liaisons who provide pertinent interviews and information.

Not always.

Sometimes, the subject matter is controversial, even scandalous. When that happens, the tone commonly changes.

Here are some of the reactions we reporters receive when our questions involve sensitive subjects, and the message we hear.

 

What they say— Where did this come from? You know, this is not really a story.

What we hear— How did you find out about this embarrassing event that we’ve been working to keep a secret? Although it’s a complete waste of time for me to tell you it’s not a story, right now I can’t think of anything else to say that might dissuade you from pursuing this.

 

What they say— We’ll send you a written statement.

What we hear— We’re going to tell you what we want you to know about this, and nothing more. If we agree to an on-camera interview, it means you’ll have the opportunity to hold our feet to the fire about issues we’d rather not address.

 

What they say— You’ll need to file an Open Records Request.

What we hear— I can get that documentation for you quite easily, but I need to make this as difficult and expensive as I can for you in hopes that you’ll go away.

 

What they say— What’s your deadline?

What we hear— I plan to wait until the last possible second to get the answer to your question, and it won’t really answer you at all. This will cause you the most stress and possibly fluster you so you appear uncomfortable on-air.

 

What they say— Can I call you right back?

What we hear— I’m not calling you back. Send me an email.

 

What they say— I used to work in a newsroom.

What we hear— I don’t work in a newsroom anymore.

 

What they say— Have you called (insert name of another agency here)?

What we hear— I need you to call someone else about this, even though they have nothing to do with it. The purpose is to distract you for a couple of hours while I think of a way to respond.

 

What they say— Why are you guys always so sensational?

What we hear— I know reporters don’t like to be accused of being sensational, and I’m throwing that out there to knock you off guard. It doesn’t really mean anything, and it doesn’t mean that the issue you’re asking about isn’t legitimate.

 

What they say– Can you send me your questions in an email?

What we hear— Written statement coming. Your request to interview someone in person is summarily denied.

 

Allow me to add that I have great respect and empathy for the people hired to deal with pesky people like me. They field questions on topics that are not of their making. Their answers are often directed from above.

Most of the media reps I encounter on a regular basis are cordial and even helpful, even when the story may place their organization in an unflattering light. Even the ones who give me the “I worked in a newsroom and I don’t think this is a story” line end up providing the information I need. There have even been times when a respectful discussion has convinced me a story isn’t as big as I initially thought.

But there are times…

Of course, it’s not their job to make my life easier.

Or improve my hearing.

Punch and civic duty

the fight to voteThree times, I’ve started a commentary on the sizzling political climate in our country.

Twice, I’ve waded hip deep into waters warm enough to scald. Wisely, I dashed back to the beach for a cool drink and reflection.

Tentatively, I wade again.

I’m hesitant to talk politics. No matter what you say, someone is going to disagree. Maybe a lot of someones. The more someones with an opposing view, the more landmines hidden in any political conversation.

This election year, the landmines are loaded with nitroglycerine.

The punch card has been replaced by the sucker punch.

I may risk a black eye, but I can’t stay quiet.

It seems we’ve lost respect for each other. Let’s face it, every American has a right to support their candidate of choice. It doesn’t matter if that candidate wants to change our currency from the dollar bill to slices of pineapple upside down cake. If a registered voter wants to support a politician who wears diapers and rides to work on a forklift, that’s his business. If you don’t like the placard in your neighbor’s yard, go vote for someone else. There’s no need to go all Mike Tyson on them. I mean, your candidate pours vodka on his Grape Nuts. Get over yourself.

What really bothers me is the anger. It’s one thing to disagree and even argue over issues and platforms. It’s another to see passion turn into a bloody lip. What does that accomplish, exactly? By tearing the other guy’s sign to shreds, do you think he’s now going to hoist the banner of your guy? Do you think berating the opposition makes your candidate more appealing?

You’ve seen the news. Political rallies turn to street brawls. Debates turn into temper tantrums. Supporters of one candidate display a middle finger, supporters of another deliver a set of knuckles.

I really have to wonder what made this country so angry. I have to think the discord has been there for awhile, like a rancid navel orange just waiting for someone to remove the thick peel. Many are disenchanted with our elected officials, and I get it. Inside the Beltway, progress meets the filibuster. Nothing irritates me more than a member of Congress who staples his worthless, self-serving legislation to a worthy bill to guarantee its passage. Sneaky. Underhanded. It’s been going on for 100 years. Pork is often the Prince of Politics.

That’s why our founding fathers gave us the opportunity to vote the bums out. The Constitution gives us the right to bear arms, not break them.

Worse than the anger is the hatred. People are using the political turmoil as an excuse to hate. They believe our country favors some over others. The rich get richer. The poor get free phones. That guy isn’t as smart or as hardworking as me, but he has a better paying job. Life is, indeed, unfair. That’s no reason to hate. Seriously. After all, there is someone smarter and harder working than you who isn’t nearly as blessed. I guarantee it. Should he hate you? No.

It’s also become popular to blame one particular candidate for all of the anger and hatred. I’m not going there. That’s the bubbling crude I’m trying to avoid. Besides, no one candidate created the anger. This political season tapped into a deep, rich vein that we ourselves created. We are the ones who send the ugly ooze spilling over our nation, and it’s not just the supporters of one candidate. I’ve seen hate, and then hate for those who hate.

I love America. The country of my birth has its imperfections, but I can’t imagine living anywhere else. The upside of living here far, far outweighs the aggravating inconsistencies of the people we put in charge. And remember…we put them there. We did that.

I can see the need for change in the culture that dominates our nation’s capital. But it’s not a need that calls for turning on each other. We, the voters, the people who are supposed to run this country, we are the ones who can change that culture. We do it on a soapbox, inside the voting booth, with passion, not profanity.

We won’t always unite on how to bring about that change, but there is a famous saying that tells us what will happen when we are divided. We can disagree on ideas and issues, and still unite in our desire to make our country better. Respect for one another needs to be a part of the equation. That goes for the politicians, as well as the voters.

We need to vote with our hearts, with our brains, and not with our fists.