Friday, March 16, 2012

An Open Letter to Dateline NBC and 20/20

No one in Dunwoody is going to fault yours or any other news organization for swarming around the Hemy Neuman murder trial.  It bleeds, so it leads.  That's life.

There are thousands of people who live here - LIVE, not visit for a story - who were all touched by this crime and who now collectively have to continue their lives with this added history.

If you get a Pulitzer, or an Emmy, or even a Nobel prize for your reporting, good for you.  If you report a story that well, you deserve your reward.

With that said:  Dunwoody is a city of people, not characters.  Dunwoody is not a freak show, or a media playground, or a setting for a sitcom.  Dunwoody is not a caricature of stereotypes designed to fill a sound bite, or to set up a witty remark in your script.  Dunwoody is every other city with people finding a way to live together both because of and in spite of our differences.  Even when there is a crime.

Find a way in your 45 minutes plus titles, teasers, and commercials to reflect that reality.

If you're having trouble understanding what Dunwoody, Georgia is beyond this crime and resulting trial, here's a primer to get you started.  Print and save.

  • Dunwoody is a city where anyone in town can create the next "big idea".  When the economy went downhill in the past few years and took the housing market with it, our citizens didn't throw up their hands and give up on their lives.  They created their own companies with their own ideas from their everyday lives.  If someone lost a job, they created a new one in its place.  (Including yours truly and her website customers.)  Look at the statistics in our business community:  Over 80% of our licensed enterprises have fewer than 10 employees.  That is how good serious people provide for themselves, their families, and their city.
  • Dunwoody is a city where as soon as a woman has a baby, or someone is ill or injured, a line of volunteers spontaneously forms to cook dinners or do housework until they get back on their feet.  We take care of each other.
  • Dunwoody is a city where our religious community, however diverse, finds a way to support each other.  Every church and synagogue has social and educational programs that are open to the entire community, not just an individual religion or denomination.
  • Dunwoody is a city that knows we can do things better ourselves.  When the county and state ignored our needs, we made them get the hell out of the way so we citizens could do it right with our own hands.  Doesn't mean every decision is perfect, but at least we're accountable to each other and we're making improvements that otherwise weren't going to happen.
  • Dunwoody is a city that will come together to support our schools.  The county school system made it clear they're not going to put the needs of the students above their own crazy agendas.  So whether it's a public school, conversion charter, or private, the parents will get involved to make sure our kids get the education WE think they should have.  We physically work on the grounds, we pool our skills and talents and "pass the hat" to raise money and gather our resources.  Then after all of that we still stay vigilant to the day-by-day lessons our children are learning and be part of their education.
  • Dunwoody is a city that is aware of people in need and will find a way to meet those needs.  There are fundraisers for the local hospitals.  Consignment sales where families hand goods down through houses of worship at a deep discount.  Some groups even invented ways of growing food for food banks, in addition to making donations from their own grocery trips.  Most of the charity goes on quietly, in private, where your cameras aren't interested in filming.
  • Most of all, Dunwoody is a city that can be passionate and even pissed off with each other from time to time over the issue du jour.  We can scream, yell, blog, curse, and carry on all day long.  But at the end of the day we can leave the strife at the door and find a way to celebrate a good cause, or relax and have fun in spite of our differences.  Look at Taste of Dunwoody, or Lemonade Days or the Bike Rodeo at Brook Run, or the 4th of July Parade, or the Dunwoody Music Festival.  Everyone has a good time but doesn't pretend to sit around agreeing with each other.

Dunwoody is not a bizarre murder or an equally bizarre trial.  Dunwoody will not be defined by this one crime, however newsworthy.  You would do well to keep that in mind as you edit your stories.  Use the real Dunwoody in your backdrop rather than a sound bite or stereotype.  Who knows - your story might become accurate enough to earn you that Pulitzer.