Why this week’s cover story is about you

If we’re doing our job, you’re not really reading a story about Africa – or Australia or America. You’re reading a story about you, wherever you are.

Andrew Esiebo/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Fatima in Maiduguri, Nigeria.

Perhaps you remember 1971’s “Steal This Book.” For this week’s magazine, I might offer a variant: Read this cover story.

It’s not just that the cover story is a good one. Like Abbie Hoffman, the author of “Steal This Book,” I have a more subversive purpose. I want to make a statement about Monitor journalism.

Why is this week’s cover story so important? Just look at the cover or pages 24 and 25 where the story of Fatima begins. Hers is a story about the women and children abducted by Boko Haram, a terrorist organization in northern Africa. It is about the loneliness and despair many such abductees feel when they return home and are branded traitors and conspirators, even after they have lost their childhood or been sexually abused. And it is about the impulse to bind those broken hearts.

To be honest, none of that makes for particularly popular journalism. In this online era, when news organizations can know how many times a story is clicked on or shared through social media, clear conclusions are easy to draw. National political news that incites partisan sensibilities does well, foreign news generally does not. That’s especially true of news from Africa.

As subscribers to The Christian Science Monitor, you took part in a protest the moment this issue appeared in your mailbox, even though you may not have realized it. You protested against the limited vision of what journalism can do.

And here’s the good part. If we’re doing our job, you’re not really reading a story about Africa – or Australia or America. You’re reading a story about you, wherever you are. What I mean is, that the Monitor does not have writers around the globe because it wants to cover news events worldwide. We have writers around the globe because we believe the human story is universal, and we can only see and appreciate the universality of that story (and share it with readers) if we’re there.

What is Fatima’s story really about? I would argue that, at its most fundamental level, it is about the cowardice of evil – how evil’s most loathsome elements naturally attack innocence and meekness. And I would argue that the story is about the need to expose that evil and point to the people who are most committed to exposing it. 

Is this story truly that different from the stories at women’s shelters in any town? On a deeper level, does it not speak to some of the coarsest elements of our political conversation?

It is a trap to think that any place or person is too distant from our own lives. It’s understandable to think that way, but it misses something vital. What drives news is not an event in some remote location, but the universal yearning to belong, to be free, to be content. That plays out in countless ways and in all places. In important respects, Fatima’s story is everyone’s story, our story.

Which is why you should read this cover story.

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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.

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