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Stay Connected or Opt Out? The Choice is Obvious

Yesterday, I sat in a video conference room in a company in Nashville where executives hold conversations with their counterparts in India and other global locations, sometimes several times a day. They not only see and hear each other with crystal clarity, they view the same spreadsheets and images, and work on them together.

Technology not only shrinks the world, it connects us in remarkable ways.

Cell Phone Charging Station in Haiti. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

Recently the world surpassed 5 billion cellphone users. Many are in rural areas once described as remote but now connected. Each month, more than 734 million unique users log on to Facebook. They stay in touch with family and friends around the world. Hyper connection.

It’s sparking a burst of creativity. Mini Silicon Valley-like technology centers are sprouting the world over–Nairobi, Guatemala City, Mumbai.

Technology entrepreneurs are creating solutions for long-term problems of isolation, lack of knowledge and access to information, lack of voice and power. Sometimes they’re solving problems people didn’t know they had because they were socially marginalized and geographically isolated.

As a result, children across the world are developing media skills, creating content and sharing it through these media in ways that were beyond imagination only a few years ago. This is changing how we form community, share information, see ourselves in the world and even how we think.

I reflected on this recently as I tried to get in touch with someone who had not activated his voicemail and doesn’t use email. He lives in a different world, the world before global hyper-connection. That’s hard to imagine.

An exciting new world

We can choose to live outside the media ecosystem that has developed around us. But because these technologies are shaping the lives of billions worldwide and fueling cultural changes that sometimes we can’t predict beforehand, it’s hard to understand why some choose to opt out.

I’m not talking of sleeping with your cellphone, being online 24/7, interrupting meetings to text or replacing face-to-face interaction with screens and keyboards. I’m not suggesting ignoring your children or spouse to hunch over a screen.

But there is a universe of information-sharing, conversation, engagement and interaction that’s fascinating, enlightening, informative and connective that, I believe, enhances life. It’s not the whole of life, and it has its drawbacks, but it’s an interesting, often exciting, new world that we all live in.

Acquiring skills and relevance

I think it’s essential to understand how people use media for good and ill purposes. We need to know how social media are being used to build community and sustain relationships, as well as how they’re used to manipulate and misinform. We are beyond the reading and writing skills of the past. They won’t go away, but they are being complemented, supplemented and sometimes replaced by new media skills.

We need to understand how content is created and distributed, and we need to participate in the evolving media ecosystem that is re-shaping our cognitive ecosystem (our brains) individually and collectively.

Dan Gillmor writes that solid communication skills are becoming necessary for social and political participation. I would add that without these skills we become (at best) less effective in communicating our ideas, and at worst irrelevant. The new media culture will move forward without us.

There are so many different worlds to explore, to choose to not engage them puzzles me.

 

Open leaders have open meetings

When Bishop Warner Brown said at the United Methodist Council of Bishops meeting yesterday that bishops need a “safe place” to discuss issues they are uncertain about, he was raising the dilemma many leaders of public organizations face in this new world of horizontal communications. Public discussion is often beyond our control. And that is unsettling, sometimes leads to inaccurate attribution and puts the speaker on the defensive unfairly.

Bishop Brown pointedly looked at the journalists in the room and said he could not speak tentatively or test new thoughts in their presence, for these very reasons. That’s the dilemma.

He wasn’t helped, however, by the first response of Fred Miller, the consultant who is advising the Interim Operations Team about how to re-organize the general church. Miller was advising the bishops about how to become a “leadership group.”

He outlined a strategy that at times sounded manipulative and concealing. Miller told the bishops to present their most inconsequential and boring material in such an exhaustive way the press would get bored and leave the room, and then the bishops could get to the meaty subjects they really want to discuss. He said this is his advice to boards of public organizations.

In a wide-ranging conversation that included a call to honesty and open leadership, courage and perseverance, this wasn’t the only bad advice Miller gave the bishops. He also told them one way to deal with conflict is to escalate the complexity of the issue so that the opponents get confused and the issue so muddled that the original disagreement gets resolved in the fog.

Not exactly a prescription for open leadership in the 21st century.

Miller did seem to comprehend the dark chasm he had stepped into with regard to journalism and much later expressed support for the fourth estate. He told the bishops the best way to deal with Bishop Brown’s concern was to be transparent and put everything on the web for all to see. Then, he said, it’s possible to assess such things as metrics, by looking at trends and avoid referring to the personal failures of individuals, or discussing opinions. This fact-based approach de-personalizes the discussion and  gives data for discussing disputes, he said.

This is a more healthy way to assess much that we care about in the church. What was not spoken in this discussion is the fact that the Council is allowed to operate under its own rules of procedure with regard to the open meetings provision of Paragraph 271 of the Book of Discipline, the book of church law by which all church entities operate – though it is expected “to live by the spirit” of the paragraph.

The council has the option to go into executive session pretty much at will, and it uses it often. The day following this exchange, for example, the council spent the day in executive session.

Why closed meetings?

Sometimes, it’s not clear why this leadership group chooses to meet behind closed doors. When they launched the very important “In Defense of Creation” study, instead of streaming their discussion on the web as a way of showing why creation care is a crucial faith concern and how they were struggling with it, they went into executive session. They missed an opportunity to share with the whole church how they connect theology and faithful practice to protecting the Creation.

Even as a journalist, I’m sympathetic to the need for leaders to have a way to discuss nettlesome matters they must deal with. We need the ability to think out loud without being locked into positions that we raise in a speculative way. We don’t want to be misquoted or held to some position that we don’t really support merely because we asked a question about it. And that happens.

But it happens whether the journalists are in the room or not. It happens when people gossip. It happens when leaders speak to staff and staff read between the lines and make assumptions. It happens when we make a jocular comment in a hallway conversation that ends up on Twitter as a more definitive statement than we could have imagined. It’s the horizontal communications world we live in.

Leaders in a public organization lead public lives. At United Methodist Communications, we offer training to episcopal leaders and others about dealing with the media. We offer resources for creating social media strategies. We offer crisis communications management training. We offer support for strategic communications planning. Few bishops take us up on these offers.

Changing the climate

The current climate in which we live is a climate that starts with skepticism. We’ve been worked over by institutions that had harmful agendas. We’ve seen 20-plus years of mismanagement of sexual abuse cases by the Roman Catholic Church, and religious figures from many backgrounds fall to the same private practices they publicly condemn. We’ve seen politicians lie, business leaders abuse trust, and our public institutions and corporations abandon the people who depend upon them. Trust is broken.

Sunshine is the best antidote. Honesty is still the best policy. We’re all human. We’re all anxious and afraid. We all need a safe place. A community of trust that allows us to be human will be based on openness, honesty and accountability.

And we desperately want leaders to take us there – leaders with open hearts, open minds and open doors.

Fear or Faith? The Alternative View of the World

Fear is not the only force at work in the world. When The United Methodist Church proclaimed this biblical truth by posting a building-size banner near Ground Zero in New York following the 9/11 tragedy, the church spoke not only to passersby but to the world.

By projecting its voice into the global conversation at this critical moment, the church brought reassurance and hope that despite the fear the terrorists hoped to instill there is an alternative way to view the world. The church took the message of the gospel into the streets, as Wesley did when he started the Methodist movement.

The biblical basis for this claim is 1 John 4:18,19, “perfect love casts out fear.” This brief passage is a remarkable teaching about the power of love, and its ability to overcome fear.  God’s perfect love casts out our fear.

The 2011 Global Involvement Survey by United Methodist Communications reveals that fear of terrorism has not really taken root as a major force among United Methodists in the U.S., nor a majority of the society.  Twice as many people (32%) are concerned about the state of the global economy as are concerned about terror (16%).  Undeniably, this economic concern includes a great deal of uncertainty, if not fear, but, as a church and as a society, we are not particularly bound by our fears. I take hope in this.

As I reflect on 9/11 and how it has affected us, I am reminded that the crisis compelled us to see the world and our place in it differently. The old polarity of local and global no longer holds. We live in an interconnected world in which circumstances affecting people far away can have direct effect upon us.  Approximately 60% of those surveyed agreed that the world is a more interconnected today.   Like it or not, we are citizens in a global environment.

The research also reveals a challenge. We understand connections close to home better than we understand how global interconnections affect us. That’s understandable, but it does place responsibility on us as disciples of Jesus to think of the world as our parish, as John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement said, and to see how the local and global are intertwined by the bonds of God’s love for all.

I think the tragedy of 9/11 awakened us to a new global reality. The future is neither local nor global, it is glocal, a term that captures a wide range of activities of friendship, kinship and commerce, according to its Wikipedia entry.

Nor is the future something of which to be afraid. As local and global are intertwined, we are given the opportunity to express our faithfulness and discipleship in the dynamic mix of this divine symmetry. We live in God’s Creation under the reign of God. This is both spiritually comforting and has practical application. As we do ministry locally and globally, we gain understanding of our place in God’s Creation and discover the wondrous beauty of the whole.

I thank God that we need not live fearfully in the world, but that we are called to love the world boldly. And I’m thankful that Wesley called us to have the vision to see the whole world as the place for us to do ministry.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it…Psalm 24:1-2.

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Faith Media + Culture is pleased to release the first of a series of surveys on contemporary issues surrounding media consumption, changing culture and our faith.

To download a copy of the report, please click here.

 

 

 

 

This Small Planet: The Power of Connections in a Shrinking World

A friend recently told me she had texted a colleague in Zimbabwe about travel needs for an upcoming visit. The reply came with questions and an admonishment for prompt answers. We chuckled at the reality of the need for immediacy across an ocean and a continent.

Once, a trip to Africa required long advance planning. Communication was hit or miss (telegram, telephone or weeks-long delivery by snail mail). No more. With cell phones, we’re as near as if we were next door. As a result, our expectations and behaviors have changed.

Upon entering a rural village in Sierra Leone not long ago, I discovered could send photos of our impressive welcoming celebration immediately from my iPad with its cellular capability.  From the dashboard of our vehicle, I sent photos and sounds in near-real time. We are interconnected in ways that stretch the imagination.

Globalization is about more than global supply chains and assembly lines. When we buy food, clothing, gasoline, automobiles and many other products, we’re experiencing globalization, and we hardly bat an eye. Sometimes, globalization is threatening and unwelcome, particularly when it means jobs shipped elsewhere. Despite this, the pace of globalization hasn’t slowed. On the contrary, it has sped up.

In contrast, global interconnectedness is about interaction, interdependence and cross-cultural influence. It’s not about the supply chain; it’s about the flow of information and ideas across borders.

We have Facebook friends around the world. Our children connect with peers oceans away, and some have even talked with astronauts in space. Online education is occurring across vast reaches of geography. For some, this interconnectedness has become routine, and for digital natives it is their natural state.

In a recent survey by United Methodist Communications, 60 percent of the population in the United States concur we’re more globally interconnected, but, interestingly, a smaller number seek news about global issues. The majority know we live in an interconnected world but accept it without seeking to know more about our global neighbors.

Whether that’s a bad thing or simply a fact of life in our media-overloaded world is open to debate. But it seems to me that understanding one another is more necessary than ever. At least we should know something about the injustices, inequities and abuses that feed the uprisings and instability that can affect our own quality of life and social stability. That is the change the 9/11 tragedy ushered in.

We should be concerned about this because with knowledge our interactions can create better conditions for all peoples. Interconnection can deliver positive benefits. It’s a stimulus for innovation, creativity and greater awareness of our common problems. It opens the door to cooperation. Of course, it can have harmful consequences, but that’s all the more reason to learn more, not less.

We’re on this small planet hurtling through space with a common destiny. Increasingly, we have the ability to overcome the barriers of time and geography that once separated us. For the first time in human history, we have an opportunity to interact, learn and discuss together the common good using tools widely available and remarkably empowering.

More than ever before, people are moving out of poverty as knowledge is shared and skills are transferred. The tide of history is sweeping us toward a more interconnected and interactive world. It is better to embrace this reality than to ignore it and be swept up in the current.

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Faith Media + Culture is pleased to release the first of a series of surveys on contemporary issues surrounding media consumption, changing culture and our faith.

To download a copy of the report, please click here.

 

 

Poll on Global Citizenship Released

The survey looks at American attitudes toward global citizenship.

United Methodist CommunicationsThe 2011 Global Involvement Survey, being released here, underscores the increasing sense of connection people have with international events.

The study finds that one in five U.S. adults follows international news closely, with almost half (48 percent) following international news at least once a day.  Our interest and consumption of international news seems to grow with our age and probably our exposure to the world. The heavy consumer of international news tends to be a male, over 55 years old.

Some of the major stories we have seen in the past six months have literally rocked the world – Japan’s earthquakes, Osama bin Laden’s death, struggling European and U.S.  economies, collapsing Arab regimes, famines and drug wars. These are more than regional events; their shockwaves are felt on an international scale.

The global stories that attracted the most attention in recent months were the Japanese earthquake and related disasters, and the death of Osama bin Laden.  Other closely followed stories included Libya’s efforts to overthrow Moammar Gaddafi, the Arab Spring, Mexico’s drug wars and the recent royal wedding.

Economy Trumps Terrorism as Top Concern

2011 Global Involvement SurveyBut with all these stories grabbing media space, the top international issues in the world today are economic weakness and unemployment, with one-third of respondents ranking the economy and lack of jobs first.  It appears that issues that can affect our livelihood rank higher than even terrorism, which was listed as the most important issue by 16 percent.

Those who follow news closely seek out more sources of news.  And older adults are much more likely to view traditional media, such as television and print, while young adults are more likely to get news from online sources.

Responding to Global Issues

Some 60 percent of the survey respondents agree that the world is more interconnected today.  Undoubtedly, the tremors from real earthquakes, terrorist events and tumultuous economies seem to be felt in towns throughout America. Not surprisingly, most adults expect the U.S. government to take an active role in addressing international issues related to human suffering, such as providing famine relief, ending genocide, promoting clean water and eradicating disease.

Respondents, however, felt that leadership in addressing global issues of hunger and poverty should be assigned to the United Nations, international medical organizations and governments of countries suffering from the problem.

When looking at world health and diseases of poverty, the most widespread and serious concerns were perceived to be HIV/AIDs (64 percent), malnutrition (53 percent) and obesity (49 percent).

When asked where they turn when disasters happen, 52 percent tend to turn to U.S. and International Red Cross organizations first.  Church and religious organizations were second (29 percent), indicating the important role faith-based institutions play in serving both local and global needs.

Getting Involved Personally

The top activities for personal involvement are donating money (86 percent), donating items (71 percent), volunteering time (46 percent), purchasing from a non-profit (38 percent), sharing information (36 percent) and praying for a group or issue (33 percent). Women are more likely to take part in all areas of community involvement, particularly prayer.

The survey, commissioned by United Methodist Communications, was conducted June 10-18, 2011,  and among 870 adults 18 years of age and older.

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Faith Media + Culture is pleased to release the first of a series of surveys on contemporary issues surrounding media consumption, changing culture and our faith.

To download a copy of the report, please click here.

Anthony Weiner’s Do-it-Yourself Media Strategy

Anthony Weiner is out of public life but he’s still the subject of late night comedy one-liners. It’s a shame. He was building a public persona with a strong, distinctive voice and it’s a loss to the public conversation.

I’ve left it to others to fathom the psychology of his self-inflicted downfall. But in a more practical vein, his do-it-yourself media management will become a case study in how not to do it. His press conferences went so badly that even as I found his behavior totally unacceptable, I had to feel sorry for his public humiliation. Had he been guided through a media strategy that was more carefully developed, he could have saved himself and his family some of the embarrassment, and perhaps saved his career.

Weiner’s media management was terrible. He was never really in control of his own story, and he lied from the outset, inviting further scrutiny. Any media-savvy person would have told him this is the worst possible course. He invited the media and his detractors to dig deeper with his vague answers and waffling from the get-go.

He might have avoided his forced resignation by admitting his indiscretions at the outset, apologizing and entering himself into therapy. More than a few celebrities have followed this course and emerged to reclaim their reputation and rebuild their public image. Some of his political colleagues have survived even worse offenses by following this path.

Weiner chose to play out his apologies and resignation in full public view, apparently with no backup. He didn’t even control his own news conferences, giving his worst detractors a platform to heap insult on injury. Not once, but twice.

Media management is not rocket science but it does require strategy and training. In the media environment today doing less than thinking and acting strategically when dealing with media is equivalent to stepping in front of a moving bus and hoping the driver will see you and stop before flattening you. Weiner got flattened.

He had an even steeper hill to climb because his indiscretion involved images that were all over the Internet. His first lie–that his Twitter account was hacked–was improbable and left us scratching our heads. His refusal to deny that the photos were actually of him raised the level of skepticism. He lost control of his own story almost immediately and when he finally owned up to his behavior he was already out of options. He had to tell the truth.

The first thing any media consultant would have advised is to be truthful from the beginning. Admit to having a problem, apologize for the harm caused and tell how you are seeking to rectify the situation. He would still have been embarrassed, but he had a much better chance to frame the story and limit the damage. Instead, he invited wild speculation and humiliating questions.

If this episode has any redeeming value, it may be to remind us that crisis communications management is not a do-it-yourself project. It requires both skills and a set of actions that are based on the firm foundation of truthfulness and responsibility. You can’t wing it. And you shouldn’t lie.

You have to anticipate how to manage crises before they happen and keep a plan at the ready to implement when they do.

In this case, however, it’s pretty simple; don’t post lewd photos of yourself on the Internet and not expect to get caught.

(A similar perspective from a public relations writer at PR On The Run.)

Weiner: You can’t put the tweet back in the bird

Rep. Anthony Weiner learned the hard way that you can’t put the tweet back in the bird. Media guru Shel Holtz used this phrase when he spoke to the staff of United Methodist Communications a couple of years ago, and it’s been proven time and again.

Setting aside the obvious celebrity syndrome, narcissism and “what was he thinking?”  questions, there are important media lessons to be learned from Rep. Weiner’s downfall.

First, know the technology. Social media provides us the feel of the personal and local. But it’s neither. Every post is not only public. Once online, it’s available to a world of viewers and it’s archived for all time. Scrubbing past indiscretions is extremely difficult and all but impossible for most of us. Rep. Weiner’s attempt to delete a Twitter message was as naive as it was futile.

Second, social media require a strategy. Because they’re a powerful communications tool, using these media casually without thinking through why you’re using them is like jumping into a race car and speeding off without knowing how to drive it. A crash is very likely. Weiner  obviously did not consider how his Twitter use could affect his career. He had no strategy.

Some use social media to stay in touch with a small group of friends. Some use it to share information of interest to a target audience. Others create conversation by being provocative, and some advocate for their causes and build networks of like-minded believers. It’s important to know why you’re using social media and to stick to the strategy, or at least to think through a new strategy if you decide to change.

Third, there is no local anymore. Social media contain an oxymoron. If you communicate well locally, you will likely be successful, but no communication on the web is local. It’s global. A private message to a friend can be sent around the world with a keystroke.

Fourth, social media are personally empowering but not private. Some users are comfortable revealing personal details (albeit not as personal as Rep. Weiner, I hope). But these details are not private once they’re on a Facebook page or a service such as Twitter. We should not be misled by the feel of the personal when we use these media. We’re potentially communicating to a vast audience, some of whom are not necessarily friends.

This is another oxymoron. While they empower us to reach out beyond our immediate geographic community, they can also bring us down because they’re transparent. They can expose our inconsistencies and hypocrisies. This built-in quality of transparency  demands consistency, if not authenticity. If we make false claims or behave in ways inconsistent with values we have espoused, somewhere, somehow, someone will expose the falsehood or inconsistency.

Rep. Weiner seems to have stumbled not only ethically but also in his use of media. And now we refer to him as former Rep. Weiner.

The Long Journey of Indian Monsooned Malabar

I roasted a small batch of Indian Monsooned Malabar coffee beans this afternoon. I love that name.

As I’ve written before, I’m not an afficionado. I’m a rank amateur hobbyist. But this bean is one reason I enjoy home roasting.  It lets my imagination run wild. In researching the name, I found that the method for aging these beans is a story in itself.

The beans are picked at maturity and shipped to the Malabar region of southern India where they are dried and exposed to the monsoon winds along the coast.  Various web sources report the coffee originally shipped from Malabar ports to Europe under sail. In the dank, wooden hulls of ships traversing the Cape of Good Hope, the beans were exposed to salty, humid sea air that caused swelling and changed their characteristics.

Green coffee beans left, Indian Monsooned Malabar right.

Green coffee beans left, Indian Monsooned Malabar right.

During the weeks-long journey they turned pale, lost acidity and developed a mild, musty flavor when roasted. Europeans took to it.
With the construction of the Suez Canal and steamships, the beans arrived in Europe faster but lacked the transformation that occurred during the slower voyage. The Europeans didn’t like it.
To capture the original taste today, the beans are transported to the Malabar region where they are stored until the monsoon season and then spread onto warehouse floors or tables and allowed to dry in the humid monsoon air for several weeks.  They are raked or turned by hand during this period to expose them uniformly and prevent spoilage. This reproduces the transformation of the old sea voyage.
The result is a distinctive flavor that, apparently, you either love or hate. I’m in the love group.

Rwanda Bourbon green coffee bean left Indian Monsooned Malabar right.

It’s called musty, but that carries an unfortunate negative connotation, I think. It’s a mild, unique flavor, not sweet, not acidic. That’s as far as I can go.

But in my mind, I’m standing at the southern tip of Africa, watching the penguins on shore and peering into the distant horizon where a three-masted sailing ship is buffeted by the high seas. It’s making the turn westward, a load of bagged coffee beans in her hull.

In a few months, the rich aroma of roasted Malabar beans will fill the air of a London coffee house where friends have gathered for conversation and businessmen are making deals over cups of fresh, hot coffee. They sip unaware of the labor of the long, dangerous journey that has brought them this simple pleasure.

“Fear is not the only force at work in the world today”


In the aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11, when the United States and the world were grieving, mainline denominations called for prayer, inclusion and reconciliation. In an ad near Ground Zero, The United Methodist Church proclaimed, “Fear is not the only force at work in the world.”

When the South Asian tsunami brought massive death and destruction to the people of the Asian Rim, the mainline voices said that it was not the work of a vengeful God. Instead, they said, God was in the suffering, standing with those experiencing great loss. The churches called on the world to assist, and people around the world did exactly that.

The voice of these denominations helps to shape public perceptions not only of themselves as denominations but also of God and the nature of religious faith. It is an important role in a world of harsh, extreme voices of exclusion and hate.

Yet, communication in most organizations is viewed as a back-office service function. When budgets are tight in nonprofits, especially religious groups, the first cuts are in the communications staff and their budgets.

For as long as they have been making these cuts, mainline Protestant denominations have been in decline, but they have not made the correlation that reducing communications capacity equates with abetting decline and losing their voice in the public conversation.

I frequently make this point when I speak to groups, and I often see heads nodding in agreement. But the reduction in communication capacity continues nevertheless.

Communications functions today are strategic assets, not back-office functions. The world is engaged in multiple conversations, and if the old-line religious organizations are not engaged as well, they become irrelevant. We know this, but somehow we tend to remain mostly on the sidelines.

The new media environment has undermined the old authority structures that allowed for a more definitive word to be spoken by religious denominations. Those messages could be pushed out. But the new environment is a conversation. The audience is not passively waiting to hear the word. The conversation takes it own direction, often framed by those with a self-serving agenda and ideology.

To the degree that they are aggressive and capture attention, they shape the conversation and move it forward. This is why I often make the point that communication is a strategic asset. The ability to frame the conversation in order to shape how society addresses the most important issues it faces requires more thought than merely assembling collateral materials, getting page views on a website or amassing Twitter followers.

It requires having a clear, engaging message with which to encourage interaction and conversation. The mainline voice needs to be heard because historically, in its various expressions, it has been a voice for justice for the powerless and vulnerable. It has been a voice for an inclusive community. And it has stood for humane values in a dehumanizing, isolating culture.

This voice is needed, but it won’t be heard without more careful strategic thought and adequate staff and resources to project it into the global conversation. I continue to make the claim that the voice of the mainline denominations is needed because it is a humanizing, reconciling and clear voice for peace, justice and a more holistic and humane global society.

Communications – our voice in the world – should be the last ministry that mainline denominations consider for reduction.

Storytellers on the Front Lines

As I lay on the hood of a Land Rover, propped against the windshield and gazing into the marvelous night sky above Luuq, Somalia, I heard a swooshing sound followed by an explosion that shook the earth. My reverie was quickly broken.

My friend, cinematographer Burton Buller, came out of a tent and exclaimed, “They’re shooting at us!”

They weren’t shooting at us, and he was joking, but they were shooting over us at a bridge not far away.

We were in a refugee camp situated between opposing Somali forces in the Ogaden rangelands, documenting conditions the world cared little about and would as soon ignore.

I thought of this as I considered the deaths of British photojournalist Tim Hetherington and Getty photographer Chris Hondros in a mortar attack in Libya yesterday. Two other journalists were injured.

Getting the story, even under circumstances that are life-threatening, is a driving force for many journalists. They are drawn to the power of storytelling, the conviction that the world must know what is happening, especially in places where life hangs in the balance.

They have an unexpressed desire to make a difference, especially for those who lack the means to tell their own story. They enable others to speak of their experiences, hoping that perhaps the world will care, the policymakers will work for change, the guns will be silenced and the people freed to pursue their lives.

We need the storytellers. They remind us of both our capacity for inhumanity as well as our capacity for human decency. They hold before us the mirror of our humanity. And in doing so they remind us of our worst, and best, perhaps, in the unexpressed hope that by knowing each other more deeply and fully, we can become more truthful, just and dignified. We can become the people we say we want to be when we are at our best.

But to tell this story they must be in harm’s way, for it is in these places, places of extremes, that the drama is played out graphically and with the risk of ultimate resolution – where life or death weigh in the balance.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says 16 journalists have died this year – 44 in 2010. Journalists are under attack in Libya. Throughout the Middle East Spring, they have been among those who pay the price for the wrenching changes that are being pressed on authoritarian, corrupt regimes.

Yet they continue to tell the stories. They continue to remind us who we are and who we aspire to be. Let us pray for them all and be thankful they are reaching out to us, holding up the mirror of reality, and sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice that we may see and know, and care.

 

 

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