Monday, November 30, 2009

December's a good time to see what's on the other side of the fence

Several years ago I was doing the traditional Salvation-Army-kicks-off-kettle-drive story and I was grabbing a soundbite with the public relations person. This was turning into an auto-pilot story until she said something that surprised me.

"We might not have enough money to pay our bell ringers this year."

"Huh? You guys pay bell ringers?"

"Well, we don't have enough volunteers, so we have to pay people to ring the bell."

I was floored. I mean, who knew? I simply assumed all those people you see at supermarkets and malls were just nice people who volunteered. The story suddenly took a different turn. Then we got into a discussion about why certain large venues didn't have bell ringers. Again, not enough money, not enough volunteers.

So naturally, guilt took over and I offered to ring the bell for a few hours.

A few weeks later I was assigned to do it at a super Wal-Mart, and, as luck would have it, the weather was absolutely miserable. Cold and pouring rain. The store manager took pity on me and let me bring the bucket inside.

Then I wished I had a camera with me.

The people who were well dressed and obviously not broke wouldn't make eye contact with me when I said, "Merry Christmas." The people who looked as if they were one step above being homeless stopped and put something in the bucket.

Anyway, two hours, a little over two hundred bucks in miserable conditions. I walked away with a new insight into human nature.

A few years later we worked out a deal with the Salvation Army where our staff would take turns for an entire day at one location, ringing the bell. I think it had the same effect on a lot of people.

We've all done stories on helping people during the holidays, but many times we really don't take the time to understand a different point of view. What's it really like to be poor? What's it like to run the Salvation Army and not have enough bell ringers?

Just some thoughts for a slow news month. Then again, it might not be a slow month for someone with a different point of view.


Joe said...

There is certainly a reason why our station does great stories regarding welfare and charities. Because most, actually all, reporters at the station could receive those benefits if they chose to. Making less than $17000 a year during a recession really opens your eyes to that point of view.

-The Grape said...

Well, uh, yeah, I guess I didn;t consider that.

Reminds me of the time as a rookie reporter I went out to cover a strike and an assembly line worker was complaining about making only 40 bucks an hour. Every reporter there rolled his eyes.

Joe said...

Sorry, you're website has been a wealth of wonderful information, and my stories have improved tenfold since visiting your blogspot. My comment was quite harsh and uncharacteristic of me.

-The Grape said...

No big deal, Joe. Sometimes you need to vent. Better here than in the newsroom.

JOEG2984 said...

Very True.