When I was but an intern reporter at a daily newspaper, I got an assignment I'll never forget. Due to a lack of drainage in the South Valley, even a little bit of precipitation sent rivers of rainwater up to and beyond doorsteps. A big rain for one of my eventual sources meant moving the kids out to the camper to sleep because the water level in his house was higher than the electrical outlets.
I say he was an "eventual" source because it was damn hard for me to coax anyone into talking about it. I'd interviewed the public officials and maintenance guys who were responsible for sucking the water out of the streets after a storm. But the last narrative component, a South Valley resident besieged by rainwater in the desert, was a far greater challenge.
One lady even cracked a smile and said something like: "The newspaper? What are you doing down here?"
I drove down to the most affected neighborhood and parked my crappy, one-eyed Kia. I pounded the dusty non-sidewalk and knocked on doors. Some people were home and yelled through the door that they "didn't want any." Some came out to chat, gave excellent quotes and then said they didn't want to be in any newspaper. Still more often, I would explain who I was and what I was doing, and people would shut the door in my still talking face with a polite, "No, thank you." One lady even cracked a smile and said something like: "The newspaper? What are you doing down here?"
It takes a certain mindset to believe that what's happening to you is a) wrong, b) someone's fault and c) something other people should know about.
It was a long few hours. I got bit by a dog.
But it wasn't the mild canine attack that caused that hot, dusty day to bind to my memory. Rather, it was the extreme reluctance of anyone I spoke with to trust me or, in a larger sense, the media.
I can't guess at what all those people were thinking or why they were thinking it. But I can tell you that I've never dealt with so many who wanted absolutely nothing to do with being in a newspaper. And I'm willing to wager that even in the Land of Enchantment, race and class have something to do with that distrust.
There are citizens of Albuquerque who believe that most of their unpleasant experiences with businesses, officials or neighbors deserve a news story. I know. They call me all the time. And I'm glad they do, because sometimes, they're right.
But over the years I've come to notice that it takes a certain mindset to believe that what's happening to you is a) wrong, b) someone's fault and c) something other people should know about. It's not just a privilege of access. It's deeper than that.
That's just an example from my backyard. Globally, media suffers mightily without the trust of the people it needs to serve. Those with access and a sense of entitlement end up in our pages and on our screens. Those without will wonder what the hell a reporter's doing in their neighborhood.
There's a super cool news site out to counterbalance this one-sidedness. Newamericamedia.org's motto is "Expanding the News Lens Through Ethnic Media." The reporting is solid, the story ideas are fresh and the perspective is more than necessary. "NAM is dedicated to bringing the voices of the marginalized—ethnic minorities, immigrants, young people, elderly—into the national discourse," says the About Us section. And it's about time.
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