Zooming it in, yes. Phoning it in, no.
Someone once said, “Journalism is what somebody doesn’t want you to know. The rest is advertising.” I find that quote not just clever, but true, and precisely why local journalism is so vital. With so much overwhelming national news, not to mention two diametrically opposed sets of news to choose from, both biased, I often find it comforting to immerse myself in and celebrate not only our local news, but our not infrequent local triumphs.
With our national news media leading the rebel yells of division in our country and both sides choosing which facts to acknowledge, much national news has taken on an echo chamber quality and, logically, the trustworthiness of our national news media is at new lows the likes of which we have not seen since the inglorious days of “yellow journalism.”
Thankfully, the story is rather different on the local front. According to a study by the Gallup and Knight Foundations, half of Americans say they trust reporting by local news organizations “a great deal” or “quite a lot.” It’s not hard to find local news triumphs. For example, local news did incredible work reporting on the Flint, Michigan water crisis while the national news media dawdled. And the Palm Beach Post single handedly reactivated the Jeffrey Epstein case after Mr. Epstein originally received an implausibly lenient sentence, the court decreed his victims to be “prostitutes,” and the original sentencing allowed Mr. Epstein to use his personal car and driver to go on appointments – from prison!
The reason local journalism still works, in my opinion, is we report on issues that are of daily vital importance to our readers, concerns which typically have no political vector, rather than getting our marching orders from a corporate overlord with a shrill and rigid political agenda.
So while the national news media was happy to let the Epstein case die, for the locals in Palm Beach, who had to deal with the daily comings and goings of Mr. Epstein and his coterie, the Epstein saga was still news. The fact is, we all have a much greater connection to, understanding of, and fortunately, influence over matters which are closer to home.
I Love Local
And journalism is not the only local institution with a profound importance that continues to be refreshingly robust. This is a confusing time for all of us, but especially for our children who are gaining their political and moral consciousness amidst this messy and combustible moment.
This week, Joseph R. Biden, the 46th President of the United States, was inaugurated in the midst of a still raging deadly pandemic and in the active wake of violent protests in our nation’s capital. I wouldn’t envy any incoming president, unless he or she had magic healing powers and the super-human capacity to influence the hearts and minds of an electorate deeply and seemingly intractably divided.
But as a parent I’ve been paying close attention to what our schools are doing to help our kids process these times. Because our kids are stuck at home to learn remotely, like other parents I’ve had special fly on the wall status to witness how their teachers are handling this tumultuous and scary time. And I’m impressed. Not just by how “on it” these teachers are. How sensitive and present they are. But the lengths to which they are going to reach through the internet to our kids and engage with them. And I truly marvel at how directly our local educators are addressing what these young minds have bore witness to this past year.
You may have read this past week about the middle school teacher called up to the National Reserve who is still Zooming his music class from the back of his National Guard Humvee. But I have to tell you that on the local level I’ve seen our teachers be every bit as dedicated. In his inaugural address, President Biden called upon each of us to “listen to one another, hear one another, see one another, show respect for one another.” And from what I have witnessed, our educators are leading by example.
This nosey parent has overheard classroom Zooms with teachers drawing kids out of their shells, using the real time mayhem on our national stage to drive lessons in critical thinking. When might a crowd be justified in overtaking the Capitol Building? Is violent protest ever justified? How are the Capitol protests different from the Boston Tea Party? How are they the same?
And, refreshingly, I don’t hear the teachers looking for an answer. I hear them instead coaching our kids to think critically, for themselves, to weigh the facts and reach their own logical and supported conclusions. Helping them to process and discuss what this all means. Making room for all perspectives. And most importantly, I’ve been impressed, even moved, by the level of moral and emotional support and empathy expressed by our local teaching corps.
The following excerpt came last Friday from Leo Borden, my youngest daughter’s history teacher at Santa Barbara Jr. High School. Local engagement of which we can all be proud:
“Congratulations! You are the first students to complete a semester of school conducted entirely online. And you not only survived, you somehow thrived. I cannot tell you how impressed I am with what you were able to produce in this year that was like no other. Just know that because you were able to do this, there is nothing you won’t be able to overcome in your life. I also wanted to thank you for sticking with me. There were times I had no idea what I was doing, but you never gave up on me. And more importantly you helped me find the joy and meaning in what we did together. I have been teaching for 34 years and because of you I know that there is nothing else I would rather be doing. Enjoy your three-and-a-half-day weekend, you definitely earned it. I’ll see you on Tuesday.”
So, yes, this has been an incredibly difficult time for “us grown-ups.” But with our local teachers going above and beyond, teaching our kids critical thinking skills despite the COVID deck being stacked against them, I have high hopes that our next generation are being given the tools they will need to “bring down the heat in this country.” To, as Biden urged, “end this uncivil war.” Unless somehow, miraculously, we are able to get to it first.