Every day in local news, we fill our broadcasts with stories of horror.
We discuss fires, crimes, murders, and more. We present images that, under any normal circumstance, would be described as unsettling … and yet rarely do they provoke a reaction. Rarely do we receive e-mails decrying those stories; rarely do viewers seem fazed by them. Perhaps many have become numb to them.
Last week I produced a story that broke through. I received comments after it aired, from both viewers and my WXIA-TV colleagues, that the piece was unsettling, difficult, and heart-rending — and far more powerful because of those qualities. The piece, I was told, drew its power from not shock and awe but something seemingly more elusive in present-day local TV news:
No, this was not a story about a local crime or a disturbing piece of video.
This was a story about a 100-year-old woman … in the final stage of her life.
Days earlier we had received an e-mail. A woman named Grace Beck, the viewer wrote, was set to celebrate her centennial birthday that Sunday. Her family and aides had prepared an old-fashioned birthday party at her nursing home. Knowing of Grace’s love for music and her church, they had arranged for a special performance — by her old church’s two-year-old bluegrass band.
It sounded, I thought, both precious and powerful. I flagged the e-mail and reached out to its sender.
Then I learned the upsetting back story.
Grace, I discovered, had become stricken with both macular degeneration — a condition that causes blindness — and dementia. She received hospice care and barely stayed awake for more than a few hours.
Her 100th birthday, I was told, would likely be her last. (more…)