Turning off NPR: Media, Crisis and Kids

NPR used to be a morning ritual for me. Wake up, make coffee, turn on NPR. But for the last few months I have vacated that part of the radio dial, tuning in only occasionally, often when I’m alone in my car.

I was at the Boston Children’s Museum with my family on December 14, when I learned about the Sandy Hook shooting. Checking Twitter absent-mindedly while waiting in line, I saw the first tweets and news reports filling my stream. I looked up from my phone to a cacophony of kids laughing and playing around me, many of whom were the same age as the kids who were killed just minutes earlier.

Image via Flickr user Duane Romanell

On the drive home that day my wife and I were careful not to turn on NPR in the car with our two boys in the back seat. Since then, we’ve listened to a lot less public radio in our house. The Sandy Hook shooting coincided with my son turning four. While I’m sure he’s been aware of the media and discussions around him up to this point, recently he’s been a sponge for everything he hears.

For a lot of us who have children around the age of the Sandy Hook victims, that tragedy shook us to the core. But the endless media coverage of the event created new challenges as we tried to shield our kids from news of the tragedy.

This morning when I woke up, I made coffee and turned on the radio – it was tuned to NPR. My son was already eating his breakfast in the kitchen and before I could reach the dial words like “explosion” and “dead” came tumbling out. The devastation of Boston was brought into our little house so quickly. I changed the channel, I don’t think he noticed, but I don’t know. When I went to get the newspaper on my front steps images of the Boston marathon tragedy filled the front page. I folded it up and hid it from view. Continue reading

A Solutions Journalism Response to Gun Violence

Today on Twitter I asked “What would a journalism dedicated to helping communities solve complex social and political issues look like? Who is already doing it?”

This, to me, is the question we face as the nation tries to not only come to terms with the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, but also look ahead at how we can respond. Already we are seeing demands for a national conversation about gun violence, for new gun control legislation, even for a repeal of the second amendment. On the surface all of these seem like simple solutions, but in reality they are composed of a complex and interwoven web of policy, beliefs, and culture.

In a post from a year ago Jonathan Stray asked a similar question about journalism and problem solving. He observed that “The modern world is built on a series of vast systems, intricate combinations of people and machines, but our journalism isn’t really built to help us understand them. It’s not a journalism for the people who will put together the next generation of civic institutions.”

At the time he was writing about the global financial crisis, but the quote above could just as easily apply to violence in America. His post sparked a conversation about solutions journalism, a theme he returned to earlier this year. “I see the solution journalist as responsible for the process of public discussion by which problems are defined and turned into plans for the future. This is the moderator’s role.”

At times like this, we need good moderators of public debate, we need caring facilitators of challenging conversations, and we need newsrooms that can create space for communities to talk to each other. I’m not talking about online comments on newspaper websites, I’m talking about a much deeper form of community engagement. Continue reading

Disarming The Wilderness

“The first bomb dropped from an airplane exploded in an oasis outside Tripoli on November 1, 1911. […] It was Lieutenant Giulio Cavotti who leaned out of his delicate monoplane and dropped the bomb — a Danish hand grenade — on the North African oasis Tagiura, near Tripoli. Several moments later, he attacked the oasis Ain Zara. Four bombs in total, each weighing two kilos, were dropped during this first attack.”

So begins A History of Bombing, by Sven Lindqvist. In this incredibly complicated and interwoven story (Lindqvist himself describes the book as a “labyrinth,” not designed to be read cover to cover but rather as more of a choose your own adventure) Lindqvist traces a history of bombing that cuts right through the human body – literally and figuratively. The book — which I first read in a post-colonial studies course — focuses on the physical, psychological, and historical impact bombing has had on the world, with special attention paid to nationalism, class, race and power.

However, of less concern to Lindqvist is the impact of this history of bombing on the land. A recent article in Orion Magazine prompted me to go back to my bookshelf and dig up my copy of Lindqvist’s book. In “The Forbidden Forest” Johnathan Olley profiles “a small band of démineurs from the Département du Déminage” in France. The démineurs are a team of bomb experts assembled after Wold War II to find, remove and destroy the detritus of two World Wars: thousands of tons of unexploded munitions. Olley reports that “The French Interior Ministry estimates that at least 12 million unexploded shells reside in the hills and forests that rise above Verdun.” Continue reading