Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Sad Day For TV Journalism

Today, folks, we learned that an afraid 6 year old can control the national media by hiding in an attic.

A quick note... A few weeks ago, someone asked me which reality TV star I'd like to wish ill on. I chose a certain cable news pundit. The point being: the news shouldn't be called "the news"anymore. News is boring.

But people don't tune in to see boring. And, today shows me we've reached the point where broadcasting the drama of the day - in many cases endlessly debating the drama of the day, if the issue at hand is political - is the key interest vs. informing the public.

Seriously, think about it. A prototype balloon is released accidentally from a home near Ft. Collins, Colo. Would that normally interest you? Granted, the thought of a child in the balloon, helpless up in the Rocky Mountain air... sure, that's scary. But to broadcast the entire incident live - and psyching up viewers with statements along the lines of "what's going to happen to this poor kid?" - is simply irresponsible.

There was no reporting. No asking "gee, did you check the garage? The attic?"

Instead, the news made this into an event. Much like they do with hurricanes, airplanes with faulty landing gears and other "dramas" that make for riveting television.

And that is all well and good... except that these channels claim to be giving you the news.

If today's balloon incident was a movie a la speed, you'd feel cheated to find out the kid was in the attic. You'd think "They got my heart racing for that? No one thought to search the damned house?!" Why tolerate "reporting" that does the same?

And, if anything, the heightened attention puts the pressure on first responders who, suddenly, with the glare of national spotlights and cameras following their every move, become conscious that their efforts are being scrutinized by average American couch potatoes. That doesn't help them. Imagine if the kid had been on board and died. You don't think some talking head would be trying to analyze what the first responders should have done?

Honestly, this is a disgraceful chapter in the history of broadcast news media. Dan Rather, a journalist who 99% got his facts straight, lost his job at CBS for one rushed-out-the-door story. But for the "reporters" who inflated today's balloon fiasco into "news," manipulating viewers in a way that must make James Cameron proud... they're probably getting pats on the back.

This story should have been an end-of-show "kicker" segment... a light and lively "And authorities followed a stray hot air balloon in Colorado thinking a 6-year-old child was aboard. Fortunately, he was found safe and sound in his home's attic."

Instead, the interests of ratings and money took precedence over journalism.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Time and the Quarter Collection

In 1999, I decided to take on a 10-year project. Toward the end of my sophomore year in college, the U.S. Mint started the 50 State Quarters Program and, despite not really being a coin collector, I thought this would be cool.

It was a conscious decision. I decided it wouldn't go seeking out quarters or anything of the sort. I wanted to simply come upon them. With five quarters released each year, I knew I had at least a 10-year project on hand.

And so it began. First, as a small stack of quarters in my dorm room. That summer, after I told my mom I was doing this, she picked me up a $5 folder with slots for each state's quarter. Last week, after 10 years of looking carefully at virtually every quarter that came my way, I found a Montana quarter from the office vending machine... and my collection was complete.

One of the reasons I started the collection was so I could sit back and see just what transpired in my life between acquiring that Delaware quarter and the completion of the collection. And, it's really quite a catalog:

  • I got my first job. And my second. And third. And fourth.
  • I moved South.
  • I got married.
  • I traveled to Europe for the first time... and then went back again.
  • I traveled all over this country, making many of those quarters bring back some memory of being in one of those states. (This is notable since, in 1999, I had been to 13 states. On Sunday, that number hits 28 unless my count is off.)
I could go on. And that's to say nothing of world events, pop culture happenings, technological advances and so forth. Think about it... there was no iPod in 1999.

The good news, though? We often discuss how time flies... going faster and faster all the time. The truth is, it feels like the quarter collection took a long time. Slow, deliberate... it made me realize just how much time has passed. And how I really have made the most of it. I've done a lot, experienced a lot and learned a lot since the collection started. And the next 10 years... I may not be collecting quarters (no way, Jose), but I can take solace in knowing that life isn't a sprint.

It can slowed down and it can offer a world of perspective.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Cat Update and more...

OK, first off... the cat. The cat was spotted on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Control adoption Web site and was only up there for about a day. Plenty of other cats have remained on there, so we can safely assume this cat has found a new home that is not under my out-front shrubbery. You can all rest that much more soundly, dear readers. :-)

In the meantime, it hit my house last night... by "it," I mean fall. Came home with some friends, got out the fall candles and the like. Even changed the Facebook profile photo to my October avatar.

What's the best about this time of year, though... the smells. I mean it. Beyond the Yankee Candle Harvest scent... this is the time of year to get the spices out.

Last night, that meant a fresh batch of molasses cookies. I use the King Arthur flour recipe for these and, year after year, I am convinced they are the perfect cookie.

  • They smell outstanding. That house-filling smell of spice.
  • They look like a cookie. I mean, these come out of the oven and cool and end up looking like something you would buy in a store... minus the preservatives and all that jazz of packaged cookies.
  • They are the perfect consistency. Soft, chewy... they're damn perfect cookies, I'm telling you.
My wife has decreed that she "needs to make pumpkin bread today." I have two killer gingerbread recipes. I've got a rack-full of spices.

My house... gonna be smelling good through about Jan. 1.