Perspectives: What is News to You?

In Perspectives: What is News, I talked about how I decided to write a story about the experiences of people during a severe storm instead of the it-rained-here and a-tornado-hit-there facts that all other radio, TV and newspapers had already stated a hundred times over. I took the angle of what would be more important, more in depth and more real than just statistics and objective facts - to me.

Hearsay though it is, I was told that someone commented that my story was sensationalism, and the publisher retorted that it wasn't sensationalism but sociology. I have no idea if he was being sarcastic, but I was told he said it genuinely. My story related the experiences of 4 people in that storm in their own words, but I would hardly call it sociology. Psychology maybe, but not sociology. Toe-may-toes, toe-mah-toes.

But, the comment jarred me into deep thought. I tend to react emotionally first, then allow thinking to make sense of the emotions. Thinking might kick in almost instantaneously, or it may take awhile if the situation is emotionally intense. I decided to be more cognizant of how differently my emotions shape my perceptions compared to others around me.

I was able to run this evaluation last night. Like I talked about in Bumps in the Path: an Experience of Listening, I dropped into my "mode" at a public meeting held about an issue of a wastewater treatment system malfunctioning for a group of homeowners. I watched the department of health, the department of environmental quality and an assistant attorney general back this small group of blue collar property owners into a corner. (The sand bed part of the system is pictured.)

What I sensed was that all these department-of-whatever people were doing was their jobs, and they were doing their jobs by the letter; nothing more, nothing less. They were as cut and dry as the laws they were looking to enforce. What came from the owners was entirely different - all emotion, and fear. It may be the same feelings you can sense growing as you realize that it isn't mud you stepped into, but quicksand. Flight isn't an option, so fight kicks in; but there's nothing in arm's reach to hit. They probably don't have thousands of dollars for repair, upgrades or new installations of viable individual systems. Another meeting is scheduled in a week, but I doubt these people will have come to a unanimous decision by then. I don't think it would take you much to figure out which way my emotions went: I related to the homeowners, lock, stock and barrel.

Let me step back a moment here to give you some background. This roads in this state have no shoulders. They are as wide as the two lanes, and that's it. There are also very few guardrails, so there is no room for driving mistakes. There are roadside ditches for runoff, but those ditches don't drain off into anything, so once water is in the ditches, that's where it stays until it evaporates. Sparsely populated, a lot of the state is very rural, yet someone came up with the idea to put in public water to everyone in the state including farms and ranches miles away from anything. If there's public water available, you are not allowed to use a well for water, even if you had a well before they put in the public water. There is no public wastewater or sewage out in the boonies, though there are a lot of subdivisions built by contractors that install mini systems like this one in question. I'm guessing, but if a community isn't large enough to be called a city, then there isn't a wastewater treatment facility. There is no cable TV or DSL available to me here, but I have public water. These are just a few of what I see as 'oddities' in this state.

I decided not to write the story until this morning to give me time to step back from my emotions. I sat down and read through my notes and the inspection reports and some background information on how wastewater systems work. I felt it was necessary to put into print all the things that shaped the limited options those homeowners have because I know that few of them were able to hear what they were told in that meeting. I'm hoping that everyone that reads that story will see how these agencies boxed these people in instead of condemning those homeowners for noncompliance.

I feel like a traitor. Then, a friend tells me, "It doesn't interest me. I wouldn't read a story about some small group of people's sewage." Those people were trusting me to bring out into awareness what was happening, what they felt was being done to them, but it won't do any good if nobody but the people involved in the situation read it.

Which brings me back to the question of what is news to everyone. I'm reading a book that says people have an inherent drive for news. People need to know what is going on outside the limits of their own perceptions. News enables democracy, and democracy can't exist without news. News gives individuals and publics what they need in order to make the decisions that shape their lives. News is the governments' watchdog.

Put this way, I can morally and ideally be a part of something so necessary. I haven't seen news in such a way as you know, and to be honest, I'm relieved to have found this statement of value. No cognitive dissonance with doing something against my core values, and I can continue loving my job.

But, what do you and I need to know to make decisions for our daily lives? I have found that I have a bit of social ignorance here. I'll save that for another post. I look at the weather, I listen to traffic reports while driving, and I wouldn't mind knowing when and where there will be road construction. I would like to know what things are happening that would have an impact on my daily routine and on my life. I sure would be interested in knowing if the government was going to be stepping on my toes. That would be news to me. But, being socially ignorant, I have little idea what would be news to you.

What do you need to know?

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