It’s easy to take shots.
Trust me on this. The easiest thing in the world to do when you have an opinion column at your disposal — or a prominent commentary spot on television, radio or the Internet — is to sit back and fire away at every single thing that makes your blood boil. Don’t agree with someone’s politics? Blast them to your audience. Unhappy with the service you received at a restaurant or store? Rip them apart publicly, and “teach them a lesson.” Unhappy you got a ticket for driving like a fool? Dig up something you can use to trash a police officer or department.
There was once a saying in the news business that “if it bleeds, it leads,” meaning that the most horrific story of the day would get the best spot in the newspaper or on-air program. It was a shock tactic to get people to tune in or grab the paper off the stand, and, as deplorable as it might sound, it worked. Audiences were attracted to the stories that described the worst of humanity, either because they empathized with the people who were victimized and wanted to learn more, or because people are just naturally drawn to the opportunity to voyeuristically view evil, without being personally involved or at risk.
I was sitting in a media association conference last month for an awards presentation, and noticed that so many “winning” news articles were for covering things that were awful experiences for someone else. The Baltimore papers stacked up piles of awards for their coverage of the Freddie Gray trials. Others got certificates for sharing sad stories of addiction or overdoses. The Coastal Point won recognition for articles on the embezzlement at a local fire company and our schools becoming woefully overcrowded.
It was just another subtle reminder that negativity is what moves the proverbial needle. Negative columns and broadcast pieces focus on the missteps of our president, or Democrats acting feckless or our military being too aggressive, or not nearly aggressive enough. Articles are often constructed with the end-game in sight, with chosen facts filling in the space in the middle to prove a point, as opposed to stepping in with an open mind and presenting all sides so the reader or viewer can reach his or her own opinion.
Don’t get me wrong — I believe it is the responsibility of news organizations to shine a light on every corner of a community, be it a positive or negative story that is unearthed. I’m proud of the work we’ve done over the years with some very sensitive and hard-to-stomach stories, and I fully appreciate the hard work that news organizations around the globe put in to unearth stories that might be hard to ingest, but are vitally important to fully understanding the world around us.
But, man, it’s hard not to feel beat up sometimes when all you see is the bad.
So, with that in mind, and in celebration of the first official week of summer, I decided to “embrace the positive” in this column, and focus my attentions on some of the great parts of our community.
• I love the volunteer fire companies. I love that so many men and women in our community feel a sense of duty in helping others that they willingly put their lives at risk, for nothing more than the satisfaction of knowing they are trying to make a difference. Every time my daughter hears the siren go off, she gets concerned and starts asking about a fire. I always tell her that sound means really brave people are on the way to help someone who needs it, and that seems to satisfy her. I hope she always appreciates that some of those really brave people are our friends and neighbors.
• I love how many service organizations we have in this area, and how many of them raise money to help local students further their educations after high school. Charity should begin at home, and helping young people maximize their potential only makes our community stronger.
• I love our libraries, from the volunteers who help keep them going to the librarians and staff who put so much energy into everything they do, both for adults and youngsters. I hate that I just wrote “youngsters,” but that word goes well with my new wrinkles and the symphony of sounds I emit each time I stand up from a chair.
• I love passing that big chair sitting outside Justin’s Beach House. It makes me smile each time, thinking about how what started as a dream has now turned into a shining beacon for our community, and a house of memories for so many families who could really use some remarkable memories.
• I love sitting on the boardwalk with my family after dinner, eating ice cream cones and listening to the seagulls, waves and children laughing. Everything that’s right with summer can be summed up on one little bench.
• I love the fact that I can walk into any number of restaurants in our area and receive a meal on par with what you’d find in much bigger cities. The restaurant industry is a competitive market here, and they have to always be on their game with so many other options available to diners.
• I love the Bethany Beach Bandstand and Freeman Stage. I’m a junkie for live music to begin with, so having these incredible options a short drive away is a gift.
• I love James Farm. I love taking the dogs for a nice, long walk down the shaded path, and I get a kick out of seeing my daughter explore the beach and plant life. It sure beats sitting around watching “Moana” for the 75,000th time.
• I love that you can go from the beach to a local farm or produce stand in less time than it takes to listen to three songs from the “Moana” soundtrack. We make that particular trip a lot, and it makes for a great day. And there are plenty of great days here.