Briefly

Yesterday in a small community outside my hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, something horrible happened. A man held his daughter, her husband, his ex-wife, and two children hostage. The children were let go, the man killed his daughter, wounded the two other adults and a law enforcement officer. There was a standoff lasting about 18 hours that eventually led to the gunman killing himself. In addition to local and neighboring law enforcement, the Mississippi Highway Patrol was called in. It was a terrible thing for the community to hear about on a Sunday night.

Oh, hang on.

The community probably didn’t hear about it Sunday night because the Laurel/Hattiesburg NBC affiliate did a pre-recorded late newscast. Because of the Olympics. And the local newspaper website is snuggled safely behind a paywall. What that newspaper, The Chronicle, did was post updates throughout the night and into this morning on its Facebook page. I agree with my friend Desmond who said their use of social media was about the best of any news outlet anywhere. They nailed it. The coverage was timely and completely professional. They did not editorialize or sensationalize. WDAM, the local television station, said they were short staffed and didn’t use Facebook for actual news. On its Facebook feed this morning, WDAM posted the following:

Remember: Facebook is not our website. This is just where we share stuff and talk to our audience. Our website is www.wdam.com and its children – our mobile apps, and our mobile site. We don’t post all of our coverage here, and we don’t necessarily post news here as it happens.

Right. Because what a waste of time and energy THAT would be.

Could it really be there are still traditional media outlets out there that don’t understand if it didn’t happen on social media, it didn’t happen? Appears so. What The Chronicle appears to understand is that social media gets the story out there now. The internet gets the story out there now.  And that allows the print edition to do what we’re always complaining news doesn’t do anymore: Analyze, educate, and supply context. Obviously not everyone uses Facebook and Twitter. I get that. There are thousands of people in Jones County without internet access. That’s why WDAM’s fail in reporting (or not reporting) the story last night is so mind boggling to me. Then going on the defensive this morning was just weird. We were understaffed, you guys! Olympics! USA! No one reads this feed for real news!

Traditional media, social media is not making you irrelevant. You are making you irrelevant. Stop making it about competing. Stop worrying about whether or not people use their real names to comment on your website. Who the hell cares? It’s supposed to be about the story. Newspapers and broadcast news outlets can’t compete with social media. So why worry about it? There’s an opportunity to use social media to your advantage. You can be the guy who first broke the story on social media then used your paper or television studio to tell the whole story, or you can be the guy who’s hoping enough coverage of ribbon cutting ceremonies and lost pet announcements will keep you in the black. That’s doing versus hoping. No one ever won a Pulitzer or increased ad sales by hoping.

Allow Me To Explain

Here’s the thing. I’ve been laying low because I’m sick of national politics. I’m sick of the fact that the nation is closer to double-digit unemployment rate than not, but YET! What are presidential candidates talking about? Romney’s saying that Obama is out of touch with reality because when you’re president, you get to use gold-leaf toilet paper and diamond toothpicks. Who knew? Santorum claims them communist you-knee-versities out there in California don’t even teach American history! And Obama’s all HE STARTED IT! and pointing at the Republicans.

So.

What I’ve been thinking is that our government works for us, and we should control the dialog. I do not find abortion to be the single most important issue in the health care debate, so I’ve not talked about it recently. I don’t think immigration is the biggest threat to our way of life, so I’ve not talked about it. Not that any of that matters. I’m just one person with no money, a couple of ovaries, and a burgeoning chocolate pudding cup habit. Just because I’ve taken away the dish of milk on my back porch doesn’t mean the conversation won’t slink over to my neighbor’s where she puts out cans of salmon for it.

The overwhelming BLECH I feel towards the national discourse overshadows things I did want to talk about. You might have started reading this blog because of a piece I wrote about a murder in my home state. I won’t go into the details here, but last June in Jackson, Mississippi James Anderson was murdered by 19 year-old Deryl Dedmon. I can now say murdered and not allegedly murdered because Mr. Dedmon pled guilty to capital murder. He was sentenced to two life sentences, one for the murder and one for the hate crime enhancement. Mr. Anderson’s family asked prosecutors not seek the death penalty. Referencing the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers whose bodies were found in Neshoba County, Hinds County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Weill, Sr. said to Mr. Dedmon, “All the hard work we have done to move our state forward from that earthen dam in Neshoba County to here has been stained by you,  a stain that will take years to fade.” Weill told the gallery, “know that this craven act isn’t who we are. We can say this now. Maybe there was a time when we couldn’t.”

Even now, even as I want to write about what it feels like to hear someone take responsibility, even as I want the world to see my home in a positive light, even as I want to talk about how I am so happy to be wrong about the piece I wrote in which I voiced my opinion that Mississippians would look away from the murder of a black man by a white man, I hesitate. I hesitate because I want to talk about how two lives were ruined. Mr. Anderson lost his, and Mr. Dedmon will never leave the prison grounds. And our conversation parameters tell me I cannot feel sympathy for both sides. Our social contract dictates I must take a side. So I say up front, Mr. Dedmon deserves every day he sits in that cell. The people who were with him deserve punishment. And when I read that Mr. Dedmon feels remorse and has now found God, I roll my eyes and think of course.  You feel remorse that you got caught.

We have created an either-or world where being right means we can do what we want. Arizona lawmakers wrote a bill that would allow employers to find out why female employees on company insurance were using contraception. Tennessee lawmakers want to publish names of abortion providers and detailed demographic information about patients. Alabama allows police to stop people they have a “reasonable” suspicion to be illegal. And all of this is because the other guy should not be able to have his way. You don’t agree with what I believe, so you are less than I am. You are not as moral as I am. You are not human in the way I am, and I may deny you rights because of it.

Debate has changed its meaning just like what it means to be conservative has changed. It’s tiresome. And it’s mainly tiresome because most of the people I know don’t really live on one end of the spectrum or the other. Most of us are stuck here in the middle where we may give a point to this side one day and the other the next. That’s the way life works. It drives you crazy that your husband leaves his clothes in a heap on the bathroom floor, but you take it in stride because you love the way he folds you up to him when you’ve had a terrible day.

I think in order to keep writing–which is something I love to do and feel incomplete when I don’t–I’m going to keep to the mundane, profane, and urbane. More to come. Really.

(UPDATE: No sooner had I gotten this post published did I come upon this piece which discusses what goes wrong when talking about two sides of an issue. It’s a great piece, and I hope you’ll read it. Top 10 Misguided Responses To Calls for Compassion)

A Challenge

Hi. My name is Susan and I was a high school drama nerd.

I was a member of the National Forensics League. If you give me a minute, I could probably remember my rank. I faithfully got up–generally before dawn–most Saturday mornings between September and the first weekend of May, PUT ON PANTYHOSE, grabbed my Walkman, and stumbled to a school bus which then took us to such exotic locales as Monticello and Clinton, Mississippi for speech and drama competitions.  I don’t want to brag, but I could do a “Clear Glass Marbles” that would make a dictator cry. I was kind of a big deal. Not really, but I did hear these girls talking about me once. They were really glad they weren’t in a round with me. I dominated.

Point being, we never had to pay for much more than lunch and snacks when we went to these tournaments. But as we all know, art, choir, drama, band, and other classes which might be construed as artsy-fartsy aren’t important in high school.  No, the fact that I had to learn discipline to get up that damn early, memorize two or three different pieces, speak for 3 to 5 minutes on a subject pulled from a hat, build a stage set, and find out that pantyhose stuffed with newspaper makes an excellent fake turkey are not things that are important for kids to learn.

My high school, Laurel High, has gone through some changes in the twenty-two ten years since I was graduated. But one thing that hasn’t changed apparently is that there is a ton of talent in that school. It seems the Select Choir has been asked to sing at Carnegie Hall. Yeah, a choir from Laurel, Mississippi has been invited to perform at the Octavo Series which will be conducted by Dr. Anton Armstrong, conductor of the St. Olaf Choir. The thirty-five member choir has raised most of the $60,000 to go, but I just read today they are about $5,000 short.

If you are reading this, you probably know me. If you know me, you might have been in school with me. If you were in school with me, we probably went on some trips together. I am challenging you, Laurel High alums, to make up the difference. Look, there are enough of us that $20 here and there could get these kids to New York. Can you imagine? And even if they hit the $5,000 tomorrow, we need to pony up some Benjamins. There are likely to be kids who will need suitcases, clothes, incidentals.

Guys, I ain’t too proud to beg for these kids. The opportunities I had to take trips like this changed my life, no kidding. For the first time in my life, I realized I was good at something. It’s time to replace what was given. Even if you didn’t go? SO WHAT? Think of the warm, smug feeling you’ll have knowing you helped send a kid from the Piney Woods of Mississippi to New York.

DO IT FOR THE CHILDREN!

Here’s how:

Donations may be sent to:

Laurel High School in the name of LHS Choir.

1100 W 12th St

Laurel, MS 39440

You may contact the choir director, Leander Bridges at 601.649.4145 or email him at lbridges@laurelschools.org.