I love journalism and the news media.
There. I said it.
As a kid, I published my own family newspapers, edited the high school newspaper, then edited my college newspaper, majored in journalism, and went to work at the not-so-small-time Tulsa World newspaper. In my office tucked in a corner of my bulletin board is an official card proving that I am a member of the Society of Professional Journalists – a nerdish thing to display, I’ll admit. I’m a defender of freedom of the press because I believe it is the foundation of a democracy, with the added benefit that if done well, journalism allows us to form our opinions and decisions based on accurate and factual information. I’ll stand on a soapbox to decry the effects of unashamedly biased news organizations and point toward those that seek to report with fairness and accuracy. I devour news media, although now mostly on my tablet and computer. I can literally sit for an entire morning and read Slate.com, New York Times, Foreign Policy, HuffPo (yes, this skirts the very edges of journalism), and other various and sundry news blogs.
But these days, I’m beginning to feel a tinge of annoyance at the news media. It’s a familiar drumbeat, but I don’t want to be lumped in with those who simply grumble about the “liberal” press. That definition and complaint holds little water these days. No, my annoyance comes from an increasing awareness that when I saturate myself in the widely available and easy to consume American press, I feel like I’ve eaten a giant meal of something delicious, greasy, and fat-laden. It was easy to get, satisfied my appetite, and provided me with almost no nutrition. Granted, there are exceptions to the delicious and greasy fare served up by mainstream media, but they seem to be fewer and fewer. As I’ve become more jaded about the news these days, I have to ask myself what I really want from my mainstream press. Do I want to gorge on stories about quarreling politicians and their scandalous affairs? Do I want to know that Lindsey Lohan will do even more jail time or how much Kim Kardishian spent on her headlong rush into marriage? Do I need to know the latest research on the eternal see-saw of what causes cancer? (It’s more than three alcoholic drinks a week for breast cancer in women…this month.) Do I care what ten different talking heads say about the Occupy Wall Street protests? Should I care? In my daily diet of news, it occurs to me that perhaps in order to really know what is going on in the world, I’m going to have to look deeper than what is on the surface.
So after a short perusal of some (trusted) media outside the American mainstream, here is what I learned:
1) Zimbabwe’s government is requiring parents in this impoverished country to help pay teachers’ salaries.
2) The armed group al-Shabab is waging a brutal war aimed at toppling Somalia’s government and imposing Islamic law.
3) Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been ordered to pay a $2.3 million tax bill within 15 days or face jail for what he claims is part of campaign to crush dissent.
4) President Medvedev issues decree to keep Russia on summer time and not turn clocks back one hour in an effort to deter crime and lower electricity bills.
So again, the question: Why should I care about this news any more than what I can easily get in the the local paper or on the cable news networks? My simple answer: Because it’s not about us…or me.
It’s tempting to live in a bubble and believe that anything that happens outside our own country is unimportant. We’re lulled into not caring about global news unless it directly affects us or is generally sensational (Former Colombian Beauty Queen Jailed for Running an International Drug Trafficking Ring). I pulled the four headlines above from a variety of news sources outside the U.S., including Al Jazeera. Before you gasp, take a moment to hop on their website. I’m craving straight-out global news with no slant, and one of the reasons is my daily reading of Operation World, which is a prayer guide that takes me through every country in a year. Each day I am saturated with information and ways to pray for countries like Malaysia, Estonia, Niger, Belize, and I find myself wanting to know what is happening in these places. What are the people like? What is life like on a daily basis?
Again, why should I care?
Because God cares.
Thinking about the fact that there are 196 countries and now seven billion people in our world is like looking at the stars. In college, when I was feeling overwhelmed by life, I would go outside my dorm at night and lay on the grass to gaze into the heavens. To contemplate the size of the universe and how God fashioned it with loving creativity, and to realize that He is as intimately acquainted with every living soul on our planet causes me to feel not only humbled, but amazed. And a constant dose of humility and amazement is good for the soul. It’s also a reminder that the world does not revolve around me and mine.
So I’m keeping my SPJ card tucked in the corner of the bulletin board and I’ll probably hop on Slate.com to gorge every now and then. But for a while, I’m going to look beyond the borders of my own life and my own small world. I’m going to walk outside and spend some time gazing at the stars.