Did you hear the one about the Monitor?

We’re the bran muffin of journalism. But we change lives because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

Ryan Lenora Brown/The Christian Science Monitor
A runner approaches the finish line of the Somaliland 10-kilometer race in Hargeisa on Feb. 21, 2020.

This week’s cover just might be the most Monitor story you ever read.

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

A cover story about female distance runners in Somaliland – an African country so obscure that the rest of the world denies its existence? If someone was coming up with a spoof cover of The Christian Science Monitor, that could very well be it. What other American news publication would make that its cover story – especially in a time of COVID-19?

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908. And we give people stories about Somaliland even though no metrics on earth suggest people are clamoring for stories about Somaliland.

But flip those statements around. We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides to reach everyone, and we believe news can and should expand a sense of identity and possibility beyond narrow conventional expectations. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

And I defy anyone who reads Ryan Lenora Brown’s cover story to call it a chore. It is a rapture of agency and strength – the kind of story that strips away language, skin color, and religious differences to show the humanity we share.

This humanity is the primal building block of progress – the reason our investments in one another bring dividends. It is the reason we pause our world when others are struggling with sickness. It is the reason democracy and free markets and human rights work. And a news organization that sees that humanity everywhere – and sees the power of it – is bound to look a bit odd. Every so often, it just might run a cover about distance runners in Somaliland.

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