What the Monitor stands for

The Monitor is often asked to both support and condemn various political figures and movements across the world. Editor Mark Sappenfield responds.

Ann Hermes/Staff/File
The Christian Science Monitor’s managing editor, Amelia Newcomb, speaks with colleagues in the newsroom on March 22, 2017.

What does the Monitor stand for? That thought comes as I read this week’s cover story by Dominique Soguel and Monika Rebala. It is about the Polish Grannies – protesters who know very well what they stand for. Poland, they say, is sliding toward fascism and intolerance, and these women aren’t going to allow that to happen without raising an almighty ruckus.

That same thread of thought is present in the United States and elsewhere, too. In the U.S. there are some who see the president as showing similar anti-democratic tendencies. And there are some who see him as the man to lead the country back to former glories. Why won’t the Monitor support him more, I am often asked. Why doesn’t the Monitor condemn him more, I am asked nearly as often. What does the Monitor stand for?

As editor, I believe the Monitor is unlike any other news organization. Our founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote in our first editorial that she gave the Monitor its name because she intended it to “spread undivided the Science that operates unspent.” To me, this is what we stand for.

But what does it mean? To me, it is a radical statement. Many ethicists and sociologists have noted that all human beings share certain universal values – that compassion, fairness, honesty, respect, and responsibility, to name a few, are seen as positive and healthy in every human society. But that opening editorial exhorts the Monitor to take a further step. We say that these qualities have practical power. When practiced genuinely, they bring progress. In their universal operation, they advance the human race. And that equation is scientific.

So the Monitor documents the evidence. In that way, the Monitor has little interest in standing for any personality, policy, or party. Instead, it monitors the qualities and motives behind them, which are essential to getting to results that help fairness and compassion grow for all – not just the “winners.” At a time when people identify themselves precisely by their positions on personalities, policies, and parties – and when the media are feeding that trend – such a standpoint can feel out of joint. But the Monitor would say that history shows the only real way out of such a predicament is not to narrow the scope of good until we see it only in those like us, but the opposite. It comes from recognizing the need to expand our sense of compassion and responsibility and fairness as far as we practically can, in our views as well as in our actions. If that’s hard, as history has shown it to be, it speaks only of the need to push further.

And that is where the Monitor takes its stand – that these qualities are neither naive nor in conflict but capable of being expanded for the benefit of all. No person, policy, or party can claim a monopoly on them. They are instead seen in ways that defy categorization – in fresh thinking, intellectual honesty, and largeness of heart. They can be practiced by Polish grannies or presidents. 

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Dear Reader,

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.

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.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. 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.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.