In defense of good news

We look for the good stories as well as the grim ones.  Brian Mann paddling the Boquet River.

At NCPR we search out the good stories as well as the grim ones. Brian Mann paddling the Boquet River.

Last week, NCPR’s airwaves were filled with bleak dispatches from our troubled world, with another mass shooting in Oregon, continued violence in Syria, and America’s political culture twisting itself into tighter and tighter knots.

But as we gear up for our fall membership drive, I want to celebrate a part of what NCPR does every single morning that a lot of news organizations fumble:  We tell the good stories.

I count myself as a fairly hard-nosed newsman.  I’ve had a front-row seat for some big disasters and tragedies over the last thirty years, from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill to 9/11 to the Lac Megantic oil train conflagration.  But I’ve also come to appreciate how painfully skewed journalism’s filter has become.In an era when the world is making huge strides toward more dignity and more peace and more prosperity for far more humans, we reporters tend to focus on the stuff that’s blowing up.  Which is, on the one hand, fair enough.  There’s a reason we need to talk a lot about Syrian refugees or global warming or Ebola.But on the other hand, we give our audiences a dangerously skewed picture of the human condition when we fail to point out that Africa is more prosperous, peaceful and healthy now than at any previous time in recorded history.  The population on the continent is surging because so many fewer people, particularly children, are dying of poverty and disease.Here in the North Country, we run similar risks on a much smaller scale.  Our region can be a hardscrabble, hand-to-mouth place.  And yes, we spend a lot of time talking about poverty and unemployment and prisons.

But our corner of the world is also among the most beautiful, most neighborly, most creative and most generous communities you’ll find.  There are a lot of cool, hopeful, exciting things going on.So when Todd Moe talks to an artist in Old Forge or Martha Foley talks with Amy Ivy about the glorious adventure gardening in a cold climate or when I take you along on a hike into the mountains or Zach Hirsch profiles the music scene in Plattsburgh or David Sommerstein introduces us to an ambitious family of young farmers…that’s not fluff.  Those positive stories are not just the sugar that makes the vinegar go down.They are on any given day at least half of the reality of our world.  And most days, that cool stuff and those cool people you hear about on NCPR, they represent far more than half the reality.  In fact, that’s most of the reality.  That’s how we get through the hard winters and hard times.  By making good things happen.This isn’t to say that we won’t keep covering the painful, ugly stuff.  Of course we will.  But one of the things I love about our work at NCPR is that we are empowered and inspired to give a balanced, living picture of the community we serve.  And sometimes the most important, life-changing developments are the ones that go right, not the ones that go wrong.

You’ll hear a lot of arguments during our drive about why you should give a little bit of your hard-earned money to support this public radio station.  I’m convinced that this is as sound a reason as any.  After all, in these days when ambulance chasers, sensation-mongers and doom-peddlers are a dime a dozen, it’s a good news story in its own right that NCPR is different.

14 Comments on “In defense of good news”

  1. Pete Klein says:

    Actually, if I would fault NCPR about anything, I would fault it for having too much good news or as I would call it, fluff.
    That said, keep up the good work.

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  2. Pat Nelson says:

    Good news is what makes the bad bearable. There was a time when I needed to be at work at 8 and I listened to one hour of the BBC and two hours of NPR. By the time I got to my desk, any good mood I started the day with had evaporated. I am retired now and sleep a little later and get out to enjoy the morning, then I come in and listen to the 8 o’clock hour. Maybe that’s denial and hiding my head in the sand, but it makes my days go much better. Please keep it up.

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  3. Disagree with Pete. I think NCPR’s local content has the balance just right (other than Karen Dewitt’s shallow reporting from Albany, which is not really an NCPR production). They are pretty much the only outlet in the region that does serious broadcast journalism. The fact that they also interview artists and musicians enhances, not diminishes, this. I think most listeners are nuanced enough to appreciate both. I don’t care about gardening so I skip those segments, but don’t begrudge them.

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  4. jeff says:

    I write this because of something I was just watching on the History channel about the Egyptian tombs. This morning I heard of a suspected U.S. airstrike on or near a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Afganistan and my mind ran through many negative consequences of such an incident. But while here at the desk I heard the TV mention the temple at Abu Simbel and my mind immediately went a Weekly Reader story (more than 50 years ago) where I read how that temple was cut apart and relocated to save it from the flooding of a dam. Maybe it is because of that story I am so annoyed when the Taliban or now Isis destroys historical artifacts. That good news story over 50 years ago. Of Oregon’s shooting there are rays of courage, hope and imagination. The headlines tend to be the aberrations and the “good stuff” comes later, inside.

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  5. Pirate Edward Low says:

    I oft comment on the need for an ombudsman and as you are about to ask for support and community dollars (which are well deserved.. we are lucky to have a comprehensive local source for news), I will bring up the need for objectivity to be looked at.

    You know that your articles are often discussed (perhaps to ad nauseam) in the comment sections. And I think what is often lacking there is the follow up. If there is a discussion (at best, argument at worse) it seems that NCPR should do a follow up to clarify what is being done.

    What comes to mind is the connect you (Mr. Mann) have with environmental groups… and the question of why was Peter Bauer served with a notice from the RR about trespassing and you were not. While it might seem that Mr. Bauer is revered and Mr. Mann is loved (or feared because of his position at a news outlet) it should not be left at: oh well, Bauer’s bad, Mann’s the man.

    I will also second MOFYC’s comment on Karen Dewitt’s reporting..

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  6. Brian Mann says:

    I simply can’t say why I wasn’t served with papers by Iowa Pacific after my reporting trip to their rail storage area in the Adirondacks. I can answer your other question though: I have no connection to environmental groups. We live in a small rural area, so I do sometimes socialize with individual environmental activists, but I also socialize with developers, local government leaders, plumbers and state police officers…among others. –Brian Mann, NCPR

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  7. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    What about pirates? Do you ever drink a rum with a pirate?

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  8. Brian Mann says:

    I’ve drunk beer with politicians. Does that count?

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  9. Pirate Edward Low says:

    First off I think you are objective.. and fair.. so fair and balance that you will never work for fox news..

    but that said… I don’t think you have a connect to environmental groups.. and didn’t mean to question that directly, but indirectly. The fact is if you spend two hours in a canoe with Mike Carr.. (or how ever long you do the photo op) there is the perception of you being tight with that group or others. What do they say about perception being nice to look at.. no that isn’t the saying…

    Point being when there is a perception, I feel the reporter… or news outlet have some obligation to show there isn’t quid pro quo.

    —-

    as far as you not being served.. did you think about asking.. or were you afraid you would end up in the hoosegow? At the risk of throwing out a pun, not knowing why you weren’t served.. kind of derails the story

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  10. Pirate Edward Low says:

    O and in honor of KNL, Mr. Mann have you ever had a knuckle sandwich (liberal or otherwise)

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  11. Paul says:

    Brian,

    Iowa Pacific had a picture of Peter (actual evidence). They don’t have anything on you. Wouldn’t hold up in court.

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  12. PirateEdwardLow says:

    Paul:

    “I simply can’t say why I wasn’t served with papers by Iowa Pacific after my reporting trip to their rail storage area in the Adirondacks.”

    Unless you think he is lying in your stories… think he can get out of this because they didn’t read him his miranda warning… there is little doubt he was there

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  13. Laurie says:

    While that was obviously a plea for donations, the points were spot-on. Well said, Brian!

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  14. Mitch Edelstein says:

    I like the reporting of Karen DeWitt and especially enjoy her analysis on NYNow on WMHT.

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