Dispatches From Covid-ville: Civility

This series is about life within our new global community, Covid-ville. As our world universally moves into shelters and sanctuaries to fend off this vicious disease, here are some stories from our bubble as we navigate this time with a perspective on mental health, adoption, foster care and family life.

At the beginning of the lockdown, you saw neighbors checking on neighbors. Teachers drove through neighborhoods in support of their kids. We thanked our frontline workers and chatted with others in the stores. We are rightly lauding our healthcare heroes, praising our grocery store and supply chain workers and understanding the value of our educators. Today I saw civility lacking with regards to another essential position: our journalists.

Yours truly during a live press conference in Spring 2016.

Eight-weeks or so in and our patience with this whole ordeal is waning. Many of us have lost jobs. (I’ve gone on furlough since my last post.) Our income and savings are dwindling- if not dried up. We’re realizing that we’re not teachers. Hopes of summer vacations and world travels is dimming by the moment. We’re frustrated, impatient and just done.

A few weeks ago, Queen Elizabeth II encouraged Britons to act in a way that they would look back and be proud of their actions during the pandemic. I wonder if the guy shouting “Fake News” at the reporter today live on the noon news would feel proud. I wonder if the person hurling insults at the photographer covering the protests downtown today would feel the same?

So many good things in our nation’s history have come as a result of protests and civil disobedience. I think those are noble actions when used wisely to propel a just cause and not just a quick release valve for emotions.

Heckling reporters as an act of protest is one thing I’ll never get behind. Regardless of a person’s opinion on the state of media and journalism in our country, yelling behind someone’s back to get your face on camera is cowardly. I worked closely with reporters, producers and editors for 17 years. The vast, vast majority of journalists (on and off camera) are men and women of integrity, who care deeply about the communities they serve and are careful to report accurately and with integrity.

Moreso, they are people. People who live in your city and town. People with families. People with children and relationships. The person you are heckling could easily live in your neighborhood, shop at your local store (I see one local anchor at my Harris Teeter often) or parent your children’s schoolmates.

But it’s not always a safe job. Reporters in the field are incredibly vulnerable. Heckling them puts unnecessary stress in an already stressful position.

August 26, 2015. That’s a date most reporters remember well. It’s a date that I, as a person who was frequently interviewed by our media partners will never forget. Two journalists in Virginia were murdered live on air. The person they were interviewing was severely wounded. Another reporter, who has become a friend, was attacked covering a routine story in a small Midwestern town.

As spokesperson, I gave hundreds of interviews a year. Days after the WDBJ attack, I was interviewed by a local news crew for an initiative we had launched at my employer. Some teenagers nearby started yelling at us — loudly — from a balcony above. The reporter, photographer and myself were all really, really rattled. That feeling is one I’ll never forget.

That experience, and the 17 years of working daily with my journalism colleagues, left me with a deep respect for the work they do to inform our communities. I didn’t always agree with the approach, tactic or reporting, but I respect that it is hard work, vulnerable work and deeply valuable work for all of us in the community.

As to why I write this on my adoption/foster care blog? How about this: my 13 year-old witnessed the live news jeering at noon. He asked me, “dad, why is that person yelling so rude? The reporter is just doing his job! If you don’t like what he’s saying, at least let him work.” Whether adopted, biological or otherwise, you set the example for your kids.

We don’t all have to agree. But we all need to be civil.

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