Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By A. R. Vander Vegt
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Adding to the noise

From the Editor

 


When I had just gotten out of high school, some pretty big news broke out in my hometown: A teacher was arrested. Reading the article online was a major shock. I really liked this teacher. He was one of the best I had in high school, and he was my basketball coach once upon a time. It felt like a betrayal to me, to my friends, to all of us who had spent time in his classroom.

When I was co-editor of my college’s school newspaper, on the day we were to put the paper to bed, news broke about a part-time professor being arrested on child pornography charges. I didn’t know the professor; I had never even seen him, but it was my school. Professors there weren’t supposed to be arrested. But there we were, the other co-editor and I scrambling to find sources and gather statements, writing and rewriting what we had found out.

There are times I love this job. I love the people it puts me in contact with, the amazing events I find out about, the fact that I get to conduct research, which is one of my favorite activities.

There are times when this job sends my stomach into knots. I get lightheaded and feel sick and my leg won’t stop jumping up and down. Those are not my favorite days.

There’s this song by Switchfoot called “Adding to the Noise.” It was one of my favorite jams as a kid, playing Tony Hawk with my brother. Its chorus starts off with, “If we’re adding to the noise, turn off this song.” I thought, “Yeah! Woohoo! Adding to the noise!” It was like a given that I was adding to the noise; that was a good thing, a rebellious thing. As I got older, I realized what the song was saying: They didn’t want to be adding to the noise, the white noise, of this world. If that’s what they were accomplishing, turn them off and walk away.

Journalism, media in general, feels like that. Much of it just adds to the noise. It seemingly serves to confuse and convolute rather than clarify and illuminate. But media should remind us of the beauty of humanity, as well as its terror, with an eye toward restoration in the end.

A few months back, when news of the work of Tarana Burke became a national headline because of Alyssa Milano’s #metoo tweet, I wrote about facts versus truth. Fact, I said in essence, is just raw material. At mere facts, we can say, “OK, so what?” We can face facts and still walk away unchanged. Truth is not diametrically opposed to facts, but it digs deeper than facts ever could. Truth is living and breathing, it resonates and says, “This matters. You can no longer look away.”

Facts sometimes add to the noise. People say, “Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.” But that’s kind of a duh-statement. Duh 50 percent end in divorce. The other 50 ends in death. Because when you get married, it’s only going to end in divorce or death. To state the former statistic as fact is unhelpful and doesn’t get us anywhere. That merely adds to the noise.

There are times when I see myself complicit in that kind of fact-dropping in the worst way. Complicit and guilty.

It’s really hard to make sense of this crazy world. It’s extremely difficult for me to square with the fact that I enjoyed having that teacher in school and knowing what he was charged with upon arrest. Those charges were eventually dropped, but the fact of their existence challenges my sensibilities. It would really be easier to just cling to the fact of his arrest, but my conscience demands to remember the truth: human beings are complicated.

In no way does that excuse his actions. But it does leave room for his humanity. Change can happen and the path to forgiveness can be a long road — in this case, it's more of someone else's road than my own.

Journalism is uniquely poised to operate within that framework. It must be held accountable by the people, and the people will be held accountable by journalism. It certainly should offer facts of the matter and keep space at the table for living, breathing truth. Without both, we sacrifice at least two virtues: justice and compassion.

 

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