The Nod: Just one inscrutable habit in the land of local TV news

John Kelly
Columnist February 19

Being a crusty, ink-stained newspaper man — weaned on a Linotype machine, disciplined by the pica pole, lulled to sleep by the rhythmic thump of the printing press — I’ve never quite understood TV news.

I mean, I get the basics of it — local television reporters read the morning papers to get ideas, then go out with video cameras to find pictures to match the stories so they can broadcast a “package” at 11 p.m. while standing outside in their parkas — but there are certain elements I don’t understand.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

For example, the Nod. This is when the anchor and a correspondent in the field are appearing side by side on your TV in a split-screen shot. The anchor says, “We have some disturbing news from Greenbelt, where a man has eaten a fire hydrant.”

The correspondent, upon hearing this introduction through her little earpiece, can’t help nodding: Nod, nod, nod, nod, nod.

It’s as if she thinks she has to agree with the anchor back in the studio.

It’s never a vigorous nod, but depending on the tone of the story the Nod can change. If it’s a heartwarming or kooky story, the mouth will be curled into a smile and the nodding head will be slightly cocked. If it’s a sad or grim story, the lips will be pursed, the eyes will be narrowed and the Nod will be slow and methodical.

Occasionally, you get the Double-Nod: The correspondent nods while the anchor talks, and then the anchor nods when the correspondent talks.

Why do they do that? Can any TV news people explain?

Good deeds

All of us should do good things, all of the time.

That, in a nutshell, is my philosophy. I realize it isn’t very precise. I’m not even sure it’s even workable. It may be a good thing to give your kidney to a complete stranger, but it is a hard thing, too. It may be a good thing to give money to charity, but you probably shouldn’t give all your money.

Does that mean I should amend my philosophy to “All of us should do good things, all the time, if they’re relatively easy to do”?

Not quite as snappy.

No one has improved on the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you would like to be treated. This is actually a wonderfully flexible philosophy, for it takes into account our own mind-sets and behaviors. If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t want to lend your car’s battery to a stranded motorist in need of a jump-start, you shouldn’t mind if no one stops to help you.

On Valentine’s Day, Anne Wotring pulled into her Glen Echo post office in her Chevy Volt and promptly got stuck in the unplowed parking lot. She went into the post office, where dedicated clerks Yvonne Harrison and Antoine “Tony” Banks offered her their only shovel.

“Next thing I know Tony comes out in his coat and hat and starts shoveling the heavy, wet stuff away from my tires,” Anne wrote. “Tony worked tirelessly for over an hour, giving up his lunch time.” Another customer joined in and eventually Anne’s car was freed.

These little acts of kindness have happened all over our area this snowy winter. I don’t have room to mark them all, but I did find this one instructive:

Arlington’s Eleanor Laughlin lives on a steep hill near a high school. On a recent delayed-opening morning, there was a traffic jam on her street as vehicles lined up to get around a car whose front bumper was stuck in a snow bank.

“Not one person that I saw stopped to help the stuck car,” Eleanor wrote.

Then Eleanor was startled to see her 75-year-old neighbor — the recipient of two hip replacements and a knee replacement — emerge from her house with a shovel and some cardboard and walk gingerly to the immobile car.

“Since my husband is confined to a wheelchair,” Eleanor wrote, “I asked his medical aide if he would go out to help the situation. This strong man shoveled the snow away from the front tires, broke up some ice, and with the cardboard sheets under the car enabled the female driver to back up out of the snow bank. But then she just drove off without saying a word to the two good Samaritans. Not one simple thank you. How does one explain this behavior?”

Who knows? Perhaps she was so shaken by the experience that she was left speechless. But I know this: “Do good things all the time” may not be practical, but surely when someone does a good thing for you, it’s easy enough to say “Thanks.”

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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