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.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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