BLOG: 100 honest answers to one simple question

We asked 100 Metro Atlantans what’s missing from local news. Here’s what they said.

We asked 100 Metro Atlantans what's missing from local news. Here's what they said.

We know you can tell.

You can tell when we’re not being real. You can tell when we’re talking at you instead of with you. And you can definitely tell when we’re not consciously thinking about how what we do can impact the world.

Maybe that’s why so many of you have tuned out.

I love my job as a journalist. I believe in my job. I care about the stories I report, and I try to produce work that informs, elevates, and connects communities.

But I only succeed if you care, too – and if I’m finding and telling the stories that matter to you.

That’s why I pushed for the segment that I introduce to you now: UNTOLD ATLANTA. The goal? To tell the stories we are not telling enough.

And since the only way to find those stories is to ask, that’s what I did.

In late July I gave myself a unique assignment: interview, in two days, 100 Metro Atlantans. I wanted to shake hands, have conversations, and get to know more people than I would otherwise meet in a 48-hour span. We mapped out 10 locations across the region, wanting to hear from as many voices – and as many different types of voices – as possible. I would ask each person one question: “What are the stories we’re not telling?”

If I was wondering which themes would emerge as most popular, I could have stopped after Interview #1: Mark Parker, an Atlantan dressed for work and seated across from me at the Silver Skillet.

Parker’s response? “I don’t watch a lot of local news, straight up.”

Oh.

He was not alone … and he certainly was not the bluntest.

Sam Fountain of Locust Grove? “Every time you turn on the news, it’s always something bad.”

Ernest Nolan of Lilburn? “If I look at the news, it’s overspoiled moments.”

And Jennifer Burman of Atlanta? “You turn on the TV all the time, and it’s eh-eh-eh-eh-eh.” I still don’t know quite what she was voicing, but I know it can’t be good.

I cannot say I was surprised. I hear the same sentiments often in general conversation, and while I always take them in stride, they always make me feel as if we don’t reach out enough to our potential audience. In this case, I hoped their honesty about their news-watching habits would extend to their thoughts about how we can do better.

And they did. Wherever we went, people seemed willing to consider our question and give an instructive answer. Many offered subjects like the ongoing regentrification of Atlanta, the distressed and underserved communities speckled across the region, and the unseen sides of immigration, homelessness, and education.

In two days, we crisscrossed the region. We jetted from downtown Decatur to the square in Marietta. We stopped at a gas station in Woodstock and the Avalon shopping center in Alpharetta. We spent an hour at Lilburn City Park and 30 minutes apiece at the West End MARTA station and the Busy Bee restaurant. At each stop, we interviewed a handful of people of diverse ages and backgrounds, and we received a slew of just-as-diverse responses.

At our final stop, McDonough Square, I sat on a bench next to Lily Glasser, a Stockbridge resident playing checkers (and getting her pieces frequently jumped) with her granddaughter Victoria. “This is much better than video games,” Glasser said.

I asked her what’s missing from local news, and she gave Victoria a knowing smile. “I’d honestly like to see some more uplifting stories,” Glasser said, “of heroes and everyday people showing kindness to other people. I think we need that.”

She turned to her granddaughter. “What do you think, Victoria?”

Victoria took less than half a second to speak her mind. “I agree with you,” she said.

Victoria answered as if she could not believe it was being asked. Her sentence seemed to come with an implied, “Duh.” And she wasn’t alone. Nearly half of my 100 interviewees expressed a desire for news that uplifts, connects, and spotlights the positive acts occurring all over our region.

Seth McDaniel of Vinings: “We need a lot more good news.”

Sarah Harkins of Roswell: “Local heroes would be a cool thing.”

Gheran David of Loganville: “You always have the good and the bad, but you can always use a little more good than bad.”

And what can we do? James Burnett of the West End said it in three words:

“Be a voice!”

We will. UNTOLD ATLANTA will aim to expand perspectives, go deeper on the big issues, and always remember to bring hope and heart. And we will rely on your voices to remind us. If you know of an outstanding untold story in Metro Atlanta, e-mail us at UntoldAtlanta@11alive.com, or reach out to me on Facebook and Twitter.

This experiment was a great start, completing 100 conversations that would not have otherwise occurred. Now the conversation must continue. I believe in the power of this profession, but only when it works as a dialogue.

And we know you can tell when it isn’t.

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