Wen Stephenson is a lot like you.


I’d like to draw your attention to an article this week in the Boston Phoenix by an accomplished New England journalist who, around 18 months ago, “took a deliberate leap of conscience and became a climate activist.” (His words.)

Wen Stephenson’s post-Sandy op-ed reads as an open letter to his friends and colleagues in the mainstream press, and it’s in that spirit that I post it here today. I admit that reading this today dredged up some old and complicated emotions. Please share it with those you love.

The full text is here.

Highlights, for those in a rush:

“There was no single moment when I knew that I had to jump — any more than there’s a single moment when night turns to day. It was a gradual process of coming to see the facts that were right in front of me.”

“Dear friends and colleagues […] In the face of this situation — as much as it pains me to say this — you are failing. Your so-called “objectivity,” your bloodless impartiality, are nothing but a convenient excuse for what amounts to an inexcusable failure to tell the most urgent truth we’ve ever faced.

Let me be clear: the problem isn’t simply a matter of “false balance” — for most of you, that debate is largely over, and you no longer balance the overwhelming scientific consensus with the views of fossil-fuel lobby hacks. No, what I’m talking about is your failure to cover the climate crisis as a crisis — one in which countless millions, even billions, of lives are at stake.”

“In our current media landscape, it apparently takes a magazine like Rolling Stone — in an issue with Justin Bieber on the cover — to offer a writer like Bill McKibben the opportunity to spell out the facts, in cold hard arithmetic, for a mass audience.”

“What’s needed now is crisis-level coverage. And you guys know how to cover a crisis. […] In crisis coverage, there’s an assumption that readers want and deserve to know as much as possible. In crisis coverage, you “flood the zone.” You shift resources. You make hard choices.”

“Look, unlike most of your critics, I know you. You’re not just names on a page or a screen to me: you’re living, breathing human beings, with lives and families. I’ve shared the stresses and anxieties of journalism in this era. I know how hard you work, and how relatively little (most of) you are paid. I know how insecure your jobs are. And I know that your work — even your very best work — is most often thankless. Believe me. I know.

I also know that you take your responsibility as journalists, as public servants, seriously. Why is it, then, that you are so utterly failing on this all-important topic? I could be wrong, but I think I understand. I’m afraid it has to do with self-image and self-censorship.

Nothing is more important to me as a journalist than my independence. Yes, I’m still a journalist. And I’m as independent as I’ve ever been — maybe, if you can imagine this, even more so. Because leaving behind my mainstream journalism career has freed me to speak and write about climate and politics in ways that were virtually impossible inside the MSM bubble, where I had to worry about perceptions, and about keeping my job, and whether I’d be seen by my peers and superiors as an advocate. God forbid.

In short, I’m freed of an insidious form of self-censorship, based on a deeply misguided self-image all too common among mainstream media types, in which journalists, including “serious” opinion journalists, are supposed to remain detached and above the fray — not to say cynically aloof and perpetually bemused — in order to be taken seriously. Once you’ve become an advocate, once you’ve taken an unambiguous moral stand, so the thinking goes, your intellectual honesty is compromised.

Well, I’m sorry, but that’s just bullshit.

When I became a journalist, I didn’t check my conscience, my citizenship, or my humanity at the door. Nor, when I became an advocate and activist, did I sacrifice my intellectual honesty. If anything, I salvaged it.

It’s time to end the self-censorship and get over the idea that journalists are somehow above the fray. You’re not above the fray. If you’re a human being, you’re in the fray whether you like it or not — because on this one, we really are all in it together. And by downplaying or ignoring the severity of the climate crisis — or by simply failing to understand it — you’re abdicating your responsibility to your fellow human beings.

What it all comes down to, then, is this: Which side are you on?”

Read the full article here: http://thephoenix.com/boston/news/146647-convenient-excuse/#ixzz2B0UYJGB5


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