If you’re anything like me — and I really hope you are not — you might be losing precious sleep over a maddening range of worries.
Some things keeping me up lately: Will I be able to afford looming college tuition for my two daughters? Why is my front lawn inexplicably dying? Is this the year I actually prepare for a hurricane? What ever happened to the dancing skating dude at the corner of Montrose Boulevard and Allen Parkway? Is my drinking water at home really as scary as the guy who tested it claims?
I’ve been pondering what fills us with anxiety as I pore over the ongoing responses from a survey we ask readers to fill out on the Houston Landing website.
It’s a survey featuring a dozen questions designed to gauge what’s important to you and what kind of information and stories you would like to see from the Landing. About 500 people have responded as of this week. The replies to the questions have inspired and worried me, but also affirmed the reason why the Landing is here.
My favorite questions in the survey: What keeps you up at night about where you live? What are the big concerns you have about your community? We also ask people to rank what they are most interested in learning about in their community.
The No. 1 issue was clear. Nearly 87 percent of respondents cited civic/government affairs including elections and politics as the issue they were most interested in. Good thing we’re going to have eight reporters, including two civic engagement writers, hired by the summer to cover those topics.
Roughly 54 percent said arts features and reviews were their top interest. We better hurry and post our job opening for our arts and culture reporter!
Meanwhile, 44 percent said they were most interested in crime and public safety. We’ve hired three public safety reporters who will soon be tackling those important subjects.
About 41 percent of the survey takers said getting involved with local organizations and issues or volunteer opportunities was the issue they were most interested in. We don’t have a specific position devoted to this subject. But we would love to hear ideas from you on how we should address this priority.
Losing sleep over crime
Now, back to the question of what keeps you up at night. The answers ran an insightful and emotional gamut such as: “Honestly what keeps me up at night is how I’m going to pay for tomorrow.”
I really want to meet the three people who said “nothing” keeps them up because whatever yoga you’re doing or chant you’re humming, I want to know.
The rest of you unfortunately are losing a lot of sleep over:
■ Affording retirement as a middle-class person
■ People being awful to each other
■ Attacks on public education
■ Rising taxes
■ Unaccountable government
■ Cost of living in Houston
■ Gun violence
■ Ineptitude left and right
■ Children in Houston going to bed without food
Crime, police and safety were cited 70 times in this question. Many respondents said they just don’t feel safe: “Rapid gunfire is what keeps me up at night, ducking down below the windows … in fear of a possible stray bullet coming through the house and hitting us. It's all around my area of town.”
Climate change and the environment were mentioned 25 times in this question. (We’ll hire an environmental reporter soon, by the way.) Someone in the survey wondered if climate change was going to slowly erase the whole community of Clear Lake. Yet another wrote: “We're always one big storm or climate event away from third-world conditions.”
I was encouraged by this comment: “Please do not miss the opportunity to fill the void in public accountability journalism.”
We will not. That’s why we hired Alex Stuckey as our investigative reporter, who has already made a significant impact with her reporting at the Landing. It’s why every one of our reporters and editors will make watchdog reporting a priority.
An alarming number of people wrote that the state of our democracy keeps them up at night. One person said they worry about polarization and how few conversations and collaborations we are having across the political divide.
The response, though, that has lingered with me is this one: “The inability of people to communicate with each other in a respectful manner, especially if they are on opposite sides of an issue. The amount of hate and negativity toward people who are different from yourself. The way elected officials capitulate to a small but vocal (and controversial) part of their base and how news organizations seize on that. The way news organizations focus on the content that will garner the most attention (and usually negative attention) rather than on content that benefits the most people.”
This indictment of news organizations may sting for some of us in the profession, but should not surprise. People generally don’t want to be tricked into clicking on a story just because of a snazzy headline or because it will add to the news site’s readership metrics. They don’t want us to exploit the impulse to brake on the highway to peek at the traffic wreck. These are among the many factors contributing to the news fatigue plaguing our industry.
This does not mean we avoid light and fun stories. It does not mean we have to sanitize the doom and gloom. It does not mean we have to only write “positive” stories. It just means we need to question whether there’s an imbalance toward journalists solely deciding what people should know versus journalists listening carefully to what our communities want to know.
This survey is just one of many ways the Houston Landing will work hard to learn more about our audience, learn about their worries and learn more about the kind of content you want us to provide. Our reporters will be immersed in neighborhoods. We’ll be doing listening sessions like columnist Maggie Gordon’s walk and talk series. We’ll be trying a variety of ways to connect with people, such as reporter Monique Welch’s suggestion boxes. We’ll focus on the stories that matter to the most people, the stories that can help the communities who feel ignored.
One thing is very clear after reading the survey responses. People are deeply concerned about substantive matters that affect their daily lives. Will we be able to write about every single fear, priority or issue highlighted? No, not at first. But the Landing is dedicated to serving the Houston region for many, many years to come. Over that long haul, we will not lose sight of our mission to provide essential journalism, strengthen democracy and write about all that’s being done and can be done to help you sleep a little more peacefully at night.