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Posted on 5 June 2014

Bob Greenaway is retiring.

Almost every Wednesday for over 19 years, Bob has made juice, muffins and granola bars for students at Duchess Park Secondary School as part of a breakfast program aimed at making sure no students go hungry. He also runs breakfast and lunch programs at other schools throughout Prince George.

The principal of Duchess Park recently wrote Bob a letter of commendation, saying he has made a difference in the lives of generations of students by running this program. “Our students are seldom exposed to selfless generosity with ‘no strings attached,” it reads. “Undoubtedly, as a result of Bob’s example, many of them have made a conscious decision in their own lives to help others.”

Lecia Beetlestone lives in Prince George. She has always loved animals. Her husband Tony, not so much. But over the years, she’s got him to be more interested in helping them out. Right now he’s working on the road and while staying in Pemberton he found a stray, scraggly cat hanging around his motel room. A few years ago he would have never gone near the cat, but now he decided to help out. He started feeding him, and eventually got him to come for a truck ride to a shelter in Whistler, run by volunteers who give their time and money to helping animals in need.

I had never heard of Bob Greenaway, Tony Beetlestone, or the Whistler shelter before I started writing this. I found them by going onto community event announcements and Facebook groups to find out what else was going on in the world aside from what was in the news.

You’ve heard the news, right? Today it’s mostly focused on the 24-year-old who shot three RCMP officers in Moncton. It doesn’t take much digging to hear about him. I have heard interviews with friends on the radio. I have seen his image on TV. I have learned about his Facebook statuses from national publications, and that one of his former co-worker believes he wants to go “out with a bang”.

If he does go out, it will be in the style his former co-worker believes he desires. Already there has been more than 20 hours of near-continuous coverage, his image plastered on the front page of every national media site, a trending topic on Facebook and Twitter. “What is this world coming to?” reads one of the statuses in my Facebook feed.

34.87  million Canadians woke up yesterday and didn’t go on a shooting spree. One did. Guess whose name will be in the most headlines.

* * *

We (and I’m saying this as both a member of the media and a person who gets information from the media) pick and choose which stories and individuals shape our understanding of what the world is and the type of people who are in it. We pay rapturous attention to the actions of a lone gunman while Bob Greenaway, Tony Beetlestone, and the stranger who smiled at you in the grocery store are largely ignored.

Does this make sense? For the people of Moncton, I absolutely understand the up-to-the-minute coverage. This is a matter of public safety, and the reporters who are there are completely right to help the public understand what they need to do in order to best stay safe.

But why do I, here in Prince George, British Columbia, need to know every detail as it unfolds? What purpose does it serve? If I were to hop in my car right now, it would take me 58 hours to drive to Moncton. I could be halfway through Mexico before then. I have no idea what happened in Mexico today.

I’m not asking these questions because I’m absolutely certain the mass coverage of what’s happening in Moncton (or another mass shooting in Seattle that’s unfolded as I write this) shouldn’t be happening. I’m just not certain it should, either. Obviously there are people who want to follow along, but I have a sense that responsible media should strive to go beyond just chasing eyeballs. I believe there’s more to our job than that, and it involves weighing questions of ethics and responsibility and representation and so many other considerations beyond “will people click on this?”

We cannot offer a perfect summary of the world as it stands. The world is a messy, complicated place with so much happening at any given moment that it’s impossible to contemplate. And so we, as media, filter. We look around and we choose to present a few people and events out of near-infinite possibilities, and we call that the news.

It seems almost inevetiable that the tragedies and the horror stories will get more coverage than the mundane, everyday kindnesses of people just doing their best. But it is important to remember that the tragedies and horror stories are just one part of what the world is coming to, a part that has been filtered through hundreds of other stories that might have been chosen, as well.  It’s important to remember that there are bad things in the world, but there are good ones, too, and the volunteers and animal-lovers and people smiling at you at the grocery store are just as representative of humanity as anyone else. Even if they never make headline news.

Filed under: journalism, media

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