In my privileged corner of the Washington, D.C. suburbs, we have more than our share of amateur police officers. There's the "anti dog-mess" vigilantes, the neighbors who check parking permits on my street, and the residents who monitor driver behavior at stop signs. "Not enough to do" - a local friend observed. But the local obsession with petty crime and local government regulation is mirrored, and magnified, in the local media here.
Take the story of the Mom and Dad who are taking on the authorities, who charged and later acquitted them of Child Neglect for letting their 10-year-old escort her 6-year-old sibling home from the playground, a mile or so away from their home. The local police, and Child Protective Services, detained the kids for five hours.
The local media reported the "crime", and are now reporting on the court process and the lawsuits taken out by the parents.
But like most local news, the story raises huge local issues, which apply nationwide, and perhaps across the world. It also says a lot about that coveted American value, "freedom".
And the local media misses a golden opportunity to host a huge debate when it chooses to drive-by, report an alleged crime, and move on, rather than highlighting a critical social issue. So many real issues of concern to thousands are left unpondered.
When I was a kid, we vanished blissfully for hours into Formby pinewoods, our local wilderness near Liverpool, U.K. I don't know if there was such a thing as "child protective services" in those days, but I don't believe that abductions, kidnappings, muggings, and child abuse, are a 21st century invention.
"Formby Point" by Muriel Sibley, 1976
I do know that I feel enormously lucky to have enjoyed that freedom to discover and explore, compared with the kids around this wealthy part of the United States, the majority of whom are ferried by car almost everywhere. Most of my parent friends see themselves as Uber drivers, picking up and dropping off, waiting in school collection lines with the SUV engines purring, texting to kill the time.
Are the chauffeur-driven children in this town missing out on many of life's joys?
Sure, there are many dangers in deciding how much independence to afford a child, and at what age. And I don't know the answers. I do know that the debate on this subject was confined to the parental websites, and to this stand-alone backgrounder in the monthlyWashingtonian, which puts the case for Mum Danielle Meitiv.
News editors should tell their reporters that the most significant local news is issue-based. In this case, tell them to canvas expert and public opinion and knowledge on these issues:
Parenting and child independence; parental neglect; the dangers of too much freedom for children, too soon; the real dangers to children around us; the behavior of law enforcement and the courts in this case. What kind of life are we setting up for our kids?
Many of these issues were laid out on a plate for local journalists, in a press release issued by lawyers for the family.
This story provoked thousands of conversations and debates in the neighborhood shops, restaurants, and bars. Pity the local news hounds aren't listening to their customers, and failed to enlighten them beyond traditional crime and court reporting. Another reason circulations are in decline? News isn't local - news is what people care about, and should care about the most - wherever you live.