I visited my parents and watched a ton of local news. Here's what I learned.

For many of us, being at our parents' house for a visit means exposure to things outside of our daily routine.

For me, it meant watching the nightly television news — something I rarely do, which makes me a statistical minority in the United States.

Every night, like clockwork, the news was on at 11 o’clock, bringing a melange of information right into the living room. Weather, sports, and traffic advisories peppered with seasonally-focused segments, broken up into easy-to-digest pieces that were teased to the point of saturation. This is not how I or my generation get the news. But it is how many — in fact, most — Americans get it.


During that time, I saw the following pieces:

  • A health report on the trend of “wine moms” and how “mommyjuice culture” can “turn dangerous.”
  •  Numerous pieces about shopping and how to get the best deals from retailers.
  •  An interview with an immigrant family who were celebrating “bittersweet” time with family, due to the looming potential of deportation under President Trump.
  • A short piece about concussions in youth football players, followed closely by an in-depth injury report from the local professional football team.
  •   Extensive coverage of a 92-year-old woman who was mugged by a couple.

There was little news about matters which directly impacted the daily lives of viewers , nothing about the state legislature or city or county policies, and little about Congressional decisions. Those stories were covered on the station’s website, though they trailed behind weather and seasonal stories in popularity.

The underlying tone the pieces was consistent: The world is not what you think it is, and it’s not what how you remember it from when things were good (whenever that was).

Crime is getting worse. Modern trends are necessarily worse than older ones. And at the end of the day, the best way to solve your problems is not to vote, write your lawmakers, or get involved, but instead, to buy something.

The absence of policy discussion also carried a clear message: “Politics” isn’t as relevant as a carjacking or murder that occurs three states over. “Politics” does not impact your commute, your sports viewing, or your weekend plans. “Politics” happens in Washington, D.C., and nowhere else.

Our dinner table conversations over the weekend, in many ways, reflected the worldview presented by the news. While talking about events of the world, sentiments ranging from “everything is a scam” to “the world seems like a more dangerous place” were not only common, they elicited nods of agreement.

It’s not difficult to draw the connection between local news and its viewers' opinions, both in my own anecdotal home experience and in the broader state of of our national dialogue.

Though there is copious, reasonable concern about “fake news” and ultra-partisan misinformation shared on social media, television news remains the primary source for millions of Americans.

Not only do people watch their local TV news, they trust it and find it relatively centrist or objective — local news is, to many Americans, the opposite of fake news.

TV news programs are, statistically, viewed as a highly believable, trustworthy source of news. Viewers who tend to shun sites like Breitbart or US Uncut still largely find their local affiliate to be a source they can trust.

But here's the thing: It's not. In addition to the standard human interest pieces (like the “wine mom” segment), which often seek to cash in on popular ideas, local TV news tends to rely on stock subjects like the weather, traffic, local sports, and of course, crime.

And it’s in crime reporting that many of local news’ problems lie, particularly with regard to how the worldview of the average viewer is shaped.

Journalism students in Louisville who tracked local news coverage found that “over half (52 percent)” of one station’s 6 p.m. news segments were about crime. And while this has almost certainly added to the perception that crime is increasing in general, the way that crime is covered makes the picture painted by local news even more harmful and inaccurate.

For example, there’s a documented pattern of biased representation of marginalized communities in local TV news. Beginning in the late 1990s, a sizable body of research was developed, demonstrating that people who watch local TV news are likely to see Black or Brown people committing crimes in disproportionate numbers, creating a culture of fear and suspicion among white people.

This extends into TV news, too. Former Trump surrogate Boris Epshteyn’s “Terror Tracker,” which is run on local news stations across the country as well as hosted on their websites, presents “terrorism” as the sole purview of individuals from the Middle East. Similarly, TV news tend to cover terrorist attacks perpetrated by Middle Eastern individuals more heavily, leading to an outsized fear of Brown terrorists — and a willingness to act on it.

This means that viewers who flip on the news to see straightforward, unbiased reporting aren’t getting what they think they’re getting.

Instead of seeing a snapshot of breaking news and local and world events, they’re being served a dish that is disproportionately heaped with crime, fear, and racial bias. And they trust that it’s not only true, but that that’s all there is to know.

And then they absorb that misinformed fear, and they act on it.

Granted, many professionals who work for local TV news stations produce essential, thorough reporting. The issue, though, is with the industry itself. Television news stations owned by conglomerates exist for the sole purpose of generating revenue. There is money to be made in fear, salacious details, gore, feel-good news that confirms existing power structures, and othering. There is little money to be made in nuance, disruption, or discomfort.

Of course, none of this is new. Despite hand-wringing from older generations about the days of Murrow and “just-the-facts” journalism, this has always been the case.

In local TV news, the old adage remains as instructional as it ever was: If it bleeds, it leads. Triteness wins. Stereotypes win. Single-dimensional judgment wins.

But the misinformed influence of local news isn't unavoidable — it just requires news consumers to change their behavior.

That might mean abstaining from sharing stories from local news stations that are owned by powerful conglomerates or ceasing to watch the nightly news.

It might mean taking steps to encourage advertisers to avoid buying time on those stations and supporting local journalism that isn’t attached to a larger corporation and doesn’t take part in questionable coverage — whether that’s a nonprofit model or a for-profit outfit that actively pursues more diverse, comprehensive coverage of issues.

It might mean talking to your family about where they go for their news and where else they might consider.

It also might mean larger, more systemic changes, like reforming campaign finance laws to cap spending on TV news ads and voting for lawmakers who support stronger consumer protections against monopolies at the federal level.

Fake news absolutely presents a threat to information and the education of the American voting body. But real news, willfully misapplied or wrongfully deployed, is just as much a danger.

As part of our collective hunt for greater media literacy, it's important to look to the more innocent, more trusted outlets, as well, and ask what is (and is not) being fed directly into our homes and how it makes us see the world.

This story is excerpted from the original essay on Medium, and is reprinted here with permission.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."