From the editor: The Monitor's next century

Our journalists will record the unfolding future with the same lens of clarity and hope.

My assignment is to focus on the Monitor's future. It would be fun to imagine a holographic Monitor with news reports lasered in from our bureaus around Alpha Centauri. I might mention the occasional Op-Ed pieces by Wookies and Klingons.

But really the future is a fog. And all that we have to guide us is our fog light.

For the Monitor, that light is the original mission statement – "to injure no man but to bless all mankind" – that the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, set forth. You can be excused for thinking that phrase is just boilerplate. Many publications have noble statements on the walls of their lobbies or flying from their mastheads. The founding father of one of my previous employers was a Civil War veteran known as "the colonel." One of his enshrined quotes proclaims the press the "artillery of democracy." I don't think more than a handful of employees even knew about the colonel's percussive vision. I don't recall editors asking, "How are we carrying out the 'artillery-of-democracy' mission in today's world?"

The Monitor is different. Not a day goes by that somebody in our Back Bay newsroom or in one of our far-flung bureaus doesn't ask whether a news story, a photo, a blog entry, or a headline is too snarky, injurious, invasive, or is mere infotainment. Does this injure no one? Is it constructive?

Monitor reporters and editors take our founder's words seriously.

As my predecessor, Richard Bergen­heim, put it in a deeply considered essay in these pages in 2005: "Throughout its history, the Monitor has been blessed by a staff that has felt its mission deep in their hearts. Few people would ever work as hard, as long, as courageously, or faithfully as they do." They know, he said, that "when much in the media shows men and women at their worst, something is needed to honor the decency and courage and selflessness that surrounds us."

As in the Monitor's first century, so in its second.

How does the Monitor carry out its mission in the foggy years ahead? For a clue, it is necessary to look at the past.

Imagine it is 1908 and you are staring out at the young century, searching for what Tennyson called a “vision of the world and all the wonder that would be.” You would have lived in an era that still had gaslights and horse-drawn carriages, but a forward-looking individual would extrapolate from the new technologies of the day: the telephone, the airplane, electricity, the automobile.

Those inventions did indeed play a big part in our lives during the past century. What you would not have foreseen would have been TV, the Internet, the moon landing. Ahead would be jazz, Joni Mitchell, Andy Warhol, Robert Frost. Also: two world wars, the atomic bomb, Hitler, Stalin, AIDS. Could you have predicted Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., the United Nations, the Peace Corps?

All and more was put on record during the past 100 years by the Monitor. It is the same world described by Barbara Tuchman, David McCullough, Eric Hobsbawm, and a thousand other historians. Each historian – and every journalist writing history’s first draft – has his or her own take. Was the century about folly and failure? Great men and women? Class warfare? What was the theme?

The Monitor had its take, too. It unflinchingly reported on what our founder called the “incredible good and evil elements now coming to the surface.” It saw hope in women’s rights, minority rights, workers’ rights, human rights. It raised alarms over massacres, repression, wrongdoing.

Now a new book opens. It is tempting to project from the present to 2108. I’d start where everybody starts – with the Internet, of course. And nanotech and biotech. The rise of India, China, and Brazil. The planet’s environmental and economic crises.

But that would only describe the next few years. Twenty, 50, 100 years out, a world of wonder will become part of our lives so gradually that each invention and event will be as commonplace as TVs and airplanes are today.

Though the Monitor’s means of publishing may change as much in 100 years as it has in the past century – from thundering printing presses and clattering teletypes to the instantly updated Web – our journalists will be recording the unfolding future with the same lens of clarity and hope.

Note to Monitor editor in 2108: You are probably smiling at the idea that we considered the Internet modern. You may be appalled that we chopped down trees, pulped wood, and distributed printed pages as the second Monitor century dawned. I won’t try to explain Warhol or Wookies: Look them up.

Are you still situated on that beautiful campus in the Back Bay, the one with the magnificent Mother Church at its center? I hope so. However different your life is from mine, I know we are on the same page about the mission given to us by the woman who founded both Christian Science and The Christian Science Monitor: to inform and explain the world – terrestrial and beyond – in a way that harms no one and dignifies all.

The first Monitor was published on a gray November day. Mrs. Eddy was so happy about the accomplishment that she called it “the lightest of all days.” Future Monitor editor: I hope the light is still shining brightly in the 22nd century.
r John Yemma became the Monitor’s 14th editor in July 2008.

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