A headline worth a thousand words

Distilling the essence of a story down to two or three words in 80-point type can be a challenge under any circumstance. When it comes to politics, it takes even more deftness. 

Mike Segar/Reuters
Trump supporter at a campaign rally in Victoria, Texas, Nov. 3, 2018.

Our cover headline about Donald Trump two years into his presidency is an unusual one: “Making America ________.” The idea, of course, is to let you decide. Fill in the blank with what you think he has accomplished. In the story, we’ve tried to sum up President Trump’s actions – controversial and otherwise – and how he has changed the office. We tell you what some supporters say about him. We’ve said what some critics think about him. We’ve plumbed people in the middle, to the extent there are any people in the middle.

Now you tell us what you think. The idea wasn’t to shirk our duties by not writing a headline. It was to see how you read the record and whether your perceptions of the president have changed in any way. It’s also a reminder that how we view Trump mirrors who we are. 

No doubt few of your responses will be neutral. Few things are, when it comes to this president. Actions that reflect a “dangerous chaos” in the White House to some represent “creative unconventionalism” to others. What to many is an inevitable tilt toward autocratic rule may also be viewed as a refreshing attempt to take a rug beater to Washington’s conventional ways of thinking. 

One thing most people seemed to agree on – even many of Trump’s most ardent supporters – is that they’d like to see him tone down, if not turn off, the tweets.

Our goal with this story, as with all our political coverage, is to report with insight, balance, and fairness. We try to remain exquisitely nonpartisan in an irrefutably partisan age. As longtime Monitor political writer Linda Feldmann, who wrote the piece, puts it: “I have trained myself to look at events with a certain dispassion. It’s a constant process of questioning assumptions and trying to separate the important from the trivial.”

My first six headlines for this story were rejected for not capturing the precise Monitor voice. (Strangely, I got a call from HR shortly afterward asking if I was up to date on our severance package....) Distilling the essence of a story down to two or three words in 80-point type can be a challenge under any circumstance. When it comes to politics – particularly in these fractious times and with such an unconventional figure in the White House – it takes even more deftness. 

So here’s your chance. Finish the headline. Grab your quill pen. Clack those computer keys. Convey what’s in the story instead of what you believe. Who knows: Maybe you have a future in Monitor journalism. 

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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.”

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