Look for Helpers, Make Them Headliners


Thanks to the USA Today website and the previous reporting of Entertainment Weekly senior writer Anthony Breznican for perhaps the briefest and most powerful “webinar” to instruct today’s journalists.  It’s a simple lesson from Fred Rogers (1928-2003), the Presbyterian minister who hosted “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS for decades.

He recalled in an interview that he learned from his family to “always look for the helpers” whenever there is news coverage of a catastrophe. This is timeless, profound advice that has been recalled when terrorist attacks and other tragic events occur. It deserves to be repeated as we watch the inspiring TV images of people helping people during the flooding disasters in Texas and Louisiana.

In this brief video clip, Rogers urges journalists to give plenty of attention to the rescue teams who not only save individual lives, but also convey messages of sacrificial love, bringing hope where there is despair. We can be grateful that many journalists have taken Rogers’ advice in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

This is certainly a time to be grateful to the emergency workers and all good samaritans. And it’s a time to learn from, and vow to nurture, the best side of human nature. May Houston, America’s fourth largest city, and many other towns now in tumult emerge as the latest adult versions of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, where respect and shared dignity clearly elevate minds and hearts. That program was truly made for “mature” audiences.

Many journalists have put into practice the lesson seen in this video clip–the same lesson taught in the Bible when Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Bravo to those professionals who use their media as channels of peace. The creators and audiences of today’s disaster coverage need to keep this lesson in mind long after the floodwaters have subsided.

Parables of surprising goodness shall always be with us, and they deserve to be retold. They awaken us to tangible examples of missionary discipleship and mercy, countering the world’s plentiful alt-narratives of fear, division and disrespect. Whether or not overly politicized and polarizing news stories are “fake,” they risk being fatal to a society when they ignore “the rest of the story”–the realities of love and true community. They devastate an otherwise fertile human ecology in which everything is connected to everything else. They deter communicators and citizens from sharing the bold visions and fruitful relationships Mr. Rogers, our families, and our culture once taught us to be.

Shall we resolve to watch this “webinar “–and this wonderful musical addendum from PBS–whenever disasters or divisions threaten to cut off communication and stifle hope-filled curiosity? After all that we’ve learned, or should be learning, won’t you be my neighbor?







About Bill Schmitt

OnWord.net is the home for Bill Schmitt's blog and biographical information. This blog, initiated during Bill's nearly 14 years as a communications professional at Notre Dame, expresses Bill's opinions alone. Go to "About Bill Schmitt" and "I Link, Therefore I Am" to see samples of multimedia content I'm producing now and have produced during my journalism career and my marketing communications career. Like me at facebook.com/wgschmitt, follow me on Twitter @wschmitt, and meet "bill schmitt" on LinkedIn.
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