I hear it all the time. It’s on Facebook, it’s in my email, it’s at the store or at the ball game. “Hey, you’re on the news, yeah I watch when I can, there’s just too much bad stuff. It gets me down. Why don’t y’all ever show any good news?”
It’s a valid point, one that’s been debated in every newsroom. We’ve all taken the phone calls. “Hey,” they’ll say. “Stop showing all those shootings and wrecks and fires, and I’ll start watching.” Or, “My scout troop is planting trees today. That’s what you need to show on the news. People would watch that!”
I wish it was true. As the School Patrol reporter for WRCB for the past 20 years, I used to take it personally. For some principals, a phone call from me seemed like a good reason to run out the back door or join the Witness Protection Program. Whatever I wanted, it HAD to be something bad, right? One wonderfully honest school secretary, who actually knew me, responded to my request to speak to her principal by saying, “He told me to tell you he is busy.” I laughed and said, “Is he really?” She replied, “Of course not, he’s just afraid of you.” What he, and others are afraid of, is bad news, bad publicity that they work hard to keep out of the public eye. Was I calling to inquire about a student scandal, a teacher arrest, or to spotlight his school’s award-winning reading program? He’ll never know.
Let’s face it, human nature dictates the news. Look outside. Are cars going by, observing the speed limit, not running into each other? That’s nice, but boring. But remember the last time you saw a wreck? How long did you stare at that? News is made up of unusual things that happen; some good, some bad. The things that get the most attention are negative. If my channel leads the news tonight with the community parade, and the other channel leads with prostitution arrests, guess who will win the ratings battle? Still, our station and other media outlets try, we really do, to put something sweet on the news each day, along with that nasty medicine we have to dispense. Some honor deserving teachers, others show off local industries, we find local people and places who have great talents and prepare tasty dishes. We celebrate local heroes, and those who build houses or wheelchair ramps for disabled folks. You may not hear about it the next day, like you will when everyone’s talking about hookers and johns being hauled away, but it was on the news.
So a few days ago, I did my good news duty, shining the spotlight on Ezra and Kelly Reynolds, a young couple from Chattanooga. Only in their early 30s, they’ve earned their halos many times over. I’ve known Ezra’s parents for decades, so I know he’s from great stock. A while back, they had told me that Ezra and Kelly had gone to Ukraine a couple of years ago to adopt two little girls, both with Down Syndrome. The girls are precious, the proud grandparents would say, and Ezra and Kelly are devoted to them, handling their special needs with a smile. I remember thinking, “that might make a good story someday.”
Then last month Ezra’s dad Terry sent me an update on the young family. “Ezra and Kelly are back in Ukraine. They had heard about a baby boy, born with no hands and no feet. They saw his picture and just fell in love with him. They’re going through the adoption process again. “Bowen” is about a year old, and we (both sets of grandparents) are taking care of their girls (now 4 and 3) while they’re away. It’s a slow process, they could be gone for a few months.” Terry sent me the link to Ezra and Kelly’s blog, in which they were beautifully capturing the good days and bad days of dealing with medical workers, government bureaucrats and others who can either speed up the adoption, or slow it down to a crawl. I saw pictures of baby “Bowen,” a newspaper story by a Ukranian reporter, and even a TV news story about them broadcast on that country’s news network.
I set up a Skype interview with Ezra, so he could inform and update his hometown folks on their latest adoption adventure. He gave a terrific interview, and on Friday June 7, we broadcast some beautiful pictures and video of the Reynolds and this precious child. Day by day, he was becoming more mobile, active and expressive. He was finally getting the stimulation and love he needed, at the age of 18 months. Instead of just being kept alive, this little boy would get a chance at life, love and family.
Now this is good news, I thought. The story ran, I posted it on WRCB’s Facebook page. Alongside stories about arrests, Ceelo Green’s Riverbend profanity, and government access to phone records that were getting hundreds of angry comments, the Reynolds adoption story got two comments. Yes, just two. On the WRCB website, there were only a handful, the first two from nameless people who saw nothing positive in the story. “Lorraine” wrote, “Is the couple looking for money gain by getting the story out there? Have they been asked if they even considered adoption in the US ?” (Another, more critical comment was removed, I’m not sure why).
Ezra, who has dealt with such criticism before, responded thoughtfully. “In America, a child with a disability orphaned or abandoned has social supports available to them the same as any other child. These social supports are nonexistent in other countries. In many places, any child less than perfect is discarded at the hospital after being born. In Ukraine, unwanted children (disabled or not) go to an orphanage until they are five. From that point, unwanted children without disabilities go to orphanages for older children. At age 16 they are turned loose with a small amount of money accumulated from their stay in the system. College is out of the question without a family sponsor (which they don’t have). Most of them spend the rest of their life in drugs and prostitution.”
So to review, this Chattanooga couple is reaching beyond our borders to help some children. Two little girls have a wonderful life today, thanks to this loving couple. The court hearing for “Bowen” is later this month, and if all goes well, the Reynolds family will be whole, and home by the 4th of July. (They’ve just informed their friends, via their blog, that they’re inquiring about yet another Ukranian child in need.)
It’s those pictures, that video of the little boy with no hands and no feet that touched my heart. Read this next sentence carefully: No one else – in the world – wanted that child enough to play with him, to talk to him, to change his diapers, to teach him how to catch a ball, to help him grow up and become a productive member of society. We have neighbors in Chattanooga who are willing to leave their jobs for an extended period, at great personal sacrifice, to give that little boy a better life. No one else in the world was stepping up to do that. I’m proud to share their story. And for those who think this isn’t good news, or would rather find a reason to nitpick and complain about it: be my guest. Grab the remote, click the mouse, and find that scandalous story that really gets your attention. And I’ll just smile and shake my head when you ask me “Why don’t y’all ever show any good news?”