The great outdoors - Shawn Loughlin editorial
While I don’t think I’ve touched on it much recently, surely my readers don’t come to this space for 600 weekly words espousing the work of the Pope. As a (severely?) lapsed Catholic who grew up in that school system, but still identifies as Catholic, to say I have some issues with the church’s conduct over the past few decades would be an understatement (other editorial board members have saved you from scorched earth-like editorials on page four from yours truly). Having said that, Pope Francis recently weighed in on what it means to be a journalist and, at the risk of shocking myself, what he said actually made a lot of sense.
Conor Friedersdorf, writing for The Atlantic, thought so too. In a piece entitled, “Pope Francis is right about my profession”, and a secondary headline stating, “Journalists need to get out more”, Friedersdorf had this to say.
“Last weekend, Pope Francis gave my profession a gift: a thoughtful outsider’s perspective on the proper role of journalists. ‘Your mission is to explain the world, to make it less obscure, to make those who live in it less afraid of it and look at others with great awareness, and also with more confidence,’ he said, adding that, to succeed, journalists must first listen.” He continued, “By this, he meant far more than picking up a telephone or jumping onto Zoom. He meant, ‘having the patience to meet face-to-face with the people to be interviewed, the protagonists of the stories being told, the sources from which to receive the news,’ because ‘certain nuances, sensations, and well-rounded descriptions can only be conveyed’ if the journalist is present to see and hear. That means ‘escaping from the tyranny of always being online, on social networks, on the web,’ he insisted, and taking the time to be present, despite the difficulty. We need journalists, he said, who are willing to ‘wear out the soles of their shoes.’”
Friedersdorf then goes on to write about the difference between reporting in person, rather than through technological means.
It reminds me of one of my favourite soccer writers, James Montague, who has written books not about Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but about soccer in the Middle East and World Cup qualifiers played by teams from countries far, far, far away from the Cup’s 32 final spots. Along the way, he discovered that the currency of experience is more valuable to readers than being one of tens of thousands of soccer fans pontificating on blogs or podcasts about the week’s hottest Premier League match.
That’s what Friedersdorf and the Pontiff are going on about. At a local level, certainly there is merit to meeting someone in person or being at an event, rather than interviewing someone from the comfort of a chair. Citizen founder Keith Roulston told me very early on that you can’t do my job from an office. Surely the COVID-19 pandemic has monkeyed with that idea a bit, but it’s still very true. That has as much to do with covering events in person as it does with going out and finding stories, not necessarily expecting them to fall in your lap.
I know for myself, as someone who came to Huron County from a much larger city centre, being out in the community helped me not only meet people, but learn more about Blyth, Brussels and places in between as I worked to tell the stories of the community. Being the faceless name at the bottom of an e-mail just doesn’t have the same impact.
So, perhaps people like Denny and me need to get out more. It’s hard (journalists are very often introverts who like to write), but all signs point to it being worth it.