A K-pop ‘ARMY’ might show us a way forward in the ‘War on Media’ (no, really)

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Journalists, at their core, are supposed to be representatives for their fellow citizens. They’re afforded a Willy Wonka-style ‘golden ticket’ to enter board rooms, factory floors, and the streets of our communities to show and help explain what the heck is going on.

The public expects journalists to use that access and special status to get the public information they need to understand our world better, and know where they might want to advocate, or protest, or investigate more.

This may seem obvious to say, so why say it? The on-going ‘War on Media’ is adding to the already crippling deficit of trust between journalists and some segments of society, and it doesn’t need to be that way.

There have been a number of hot-takes on why dubbing the press an ‘enemy of the people’ could be considered dangerous or wrong. (Check out On The Media for a great discussion)

If you avoid nuance, it’s easier to find a narrative to fit one’s interests — especially if there’s not a lot of trust to begin with. And by discrediting the press, anything the press says about anything — true or not — might be looked at with a side-eye of suspicion.

Reputation is the coin of the realm for a journalist desperate to find and build sources and interview partners. I’ve found people hesitant to talk with me for stories simply because I’m a journalist…that talks to people.

I can’t blame people for caution, especially in the age of Tweets destroying lives. And because there are so many partisan or niche news sites or ‘news’ sites, or types of reporters who want to make a name for themselves with a genuine ‘gotcha’ moment, the public can be unwilling to participate.

The ‘War on Media’ launches barrels of fuel on this fire of distrust.

A journalist needs to work overtime to show good faith or find an ambassador to vouch for their worth, tact, authenticity, and skill.

Enter K-pop

It may seem odd to hear, but my recent post defending journalism educationcaught fire among some fans of the K-pop megagroup BTS.

These ‘ARMYs,’ as they call themselves, kind of adopted me after I stumbled into a Twitter campaign to benefit UNICEF.

My post about journalism education resonated because these fans have been burned by writers who didn’t report to their satisfaction. Many fans pride themselves on a sense of philanthropy, mental health, and community support, which extend beyond the music and the group. If a writer focuses only on the size of the fandom, or the novelty of their interest, they feel stung.

My post happened to fall when they felt jilted by another reporter, and prompted some heartfelt exchanges on the press.

As I’ve said, a journalist is supposed to be able to be a civic-minded, well-informed citizen without retribution. There are many restrictions for a journalist to avoid even the perception of overt bias, but journalists are still allowed to engage in civil society;

…to be citizens, and people.

As a journalist, I relish exchanges like that above, and like the many others I’ve had with K-pop fans (and non-K-pop fans.) I’m not advocating for a position, or making a value judgement, but I’m encouraging civic engagement.

The ARMYs, like much of our world today, are diverse in their demographics, politics, countries of origin, religious and other beliefs. As with any group, they’ve identified instances of their own ‘bad apples’ getting out of hand, but as far as I can tell there is at least the spark of desire to talk things out, and promote awareness of instances of injustice or need. (Take for example a recent Twitter campaign to raise awareness of student protests in Bangladesh.)

The unifying factor in my being able to share my perspective as one journalist in a great big world, in person and online, is that I’ve been given the benefit of the doubt.

I think I’ve proven, at least in a small way, I’m interested in listening and learning for listening and learning’s sake.

When there is no trust, there is no benefit of the doubt given to opposing or complex ideas.

Without trust, it’s easy to dismiss and demonize someone as an opponent…an enemy.

Building Trust Slowly

So what needs to happen to build trust again? Talking person-to-person is a good start.

We need to be willing to dismiss labels and stereotypes for long enough to have a productive discussion about where we are, and where we want to go.

If we want journalism to be better, then support what is good and decry what is not. But not as a monolith — stereotypes are not on what we can base a value judgement.

We must embrace nuance, and admit some conversations are difficult.

It’s easy to demonize people or things that remain just ideas, not flesh-and-blood neighbors, or cherished beliefs. Terms like ‘mainstream media’ or ‘the media’ or ‘the press’ are too simple to accurately represent what we’re facing today.

The mediascape is fragmented, and it’s easy to crawl into a cave that delivers news tailored to your worldview or tendencies.

Don’t take the easy way.

Unsettled: A measured view of immigration from Ohio

Please visit the story page to hear the radio special on immigration in Ohio, and listen to authentic voices from Painesville.

Immigrants come in many forms, but the goal is often the same: more opportunity, more security, more stability.

Who these people are, and under what conditions they come, stay, or leave the United States–or wherever they are destined–are issues of immense consequence.

Despite the gravity of the issue, or maybe because of it, good journalism about immigration, immigrants, systems of exclusion, etc, is often drowned out in favor of bad journalism. Continue reading “Unsettled: A measured view of immigration from Ohio”

Your quality known among your enemies

It’s a powerful scene in the movie Kingdom of Heaven, in which newly-minted Christian knight Balian (Orlando Bloom) releases into freedom ‘Saracen‘ knight Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani. Balian had fought and defeated what he thought was Imad’s master, over a horse found on the master’s desert plot. Balian ordered Imad to take him to Jerusalem, but then released him and gifted him the horse.

“Your quality will be known among your enemies, before ever you meet them,” Imad says, before riding off.

The core idea–that someone’s quality of character could resonate far beyond oneself, even among those who might oppose you–is found in a number of faith and cultural traditions.

In the Buddhist Dhammapada: “Not in the sky, nor in the midst of the sea, nor yet in the clefts of the mountains, nowhere in the world (in fact) is there any place to be found where, having entered, one can abide free from (the consequences of) one’s evil deeds.”  At the core of this, of course, is karma–what goes around, comes around; you get what you give.  But there isn’t necessarily the recognition of character in this.  One’s karmic debt might influence one’s interaction with the universe, but that doesn’t mean one’s reputation precedes him.

In the Bible, too, are a number of corollaries.  In Galatians we find a line repeated in Kingdom of Heaven, as well, “Make no mistake: God is not mocked, for a person will reap only what he sows, because the one who sows for his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit.”

Or in Luke, with the story of the Good Samaritan.  Although a victim is left on the road by two people who might be expected to offer help, it was the ‘outcast’ Samaritan who was the true neighbor. Jesus is quoted as saying the true neighbor was “the one who treated him [the victim] with mercy,” telling us to “go and do likewise.”

Or perhaps Sirach has a better match. “The kindness people have done crosses their paths later on;  should they stumble, they will find support.” 

And that’s maybe bolstered in Philippians with the clear directive, “Your kindness should be known to all.”

Of course The Golden Rule applies to the core idea here as well, but it doesn’t necessarily deal with the idea your reputation for fairness and goodness would be known even by your enemies.

I’m not sure why this line speaks to me as it does. There are pros and cons to the world knowing you are just and good-hearted. Unscrupulous people might try to take advantage of your morals and personal credo, and use your playing-by-the-rules against you.

But among those with honor–and honor and nobility are characteristics inherent in the dynamics of Kingdom of Heaven–that reputation bolsters your standing as an honorable player, afforded respect and courtesy even among those who disagree or oppose you.

We can’t always know which people in our lives are playing honorably or unscrupulously, and we can’t control what someone might do with the knowledge we play by the rules.

As I’ve noted before: we can only control ourselves, our actions, and our interactions. How we will be judged, is how and who we are now. And it should be done with humility–there’s a difference in earning one’s reputation through action, or by being one’s own cheerleader.

What better moment for bettering the world than now?  If we were to be judged on our lives up to this point, can we stand confidently before our Judge and claim excellence?  In my opinion, everyone’s truthful answer should be “No, but I tried my best.”

As the headlights swerve toward you, don’t panic

It wasn’t until long after the car had passed, and I had escaped unscathed, that I realized I hadn’t panicked.  I remember hearing once that traffic incidents often happen near home, probably because we let our guards down.

Maybe that was in the back of my mind as I rode my scooter, on my street, three houses from my home, and I saw the headlights veering toward me.  Cars park along one side of my street, so it’s not unusual for a car to drift farther than necessary.  I watched closely though, shifting closer to the sidewalk on my side of the street.  The headlights kept coming. The speed was noticeable.  I moved even farther to the sidewalk.  Then the headlights swerved quickly toward me, then away, and the car passed.

I stopped, letting my scooter lean beneath me toward the sidewalk as I looked at the car, waiting for some sign that the driver was aware.  It appeared to run a stop sign and hurry away.  After continuing home, and taking stock of what had happened, I realized: I didn’t panic.

Continue reading “As the headlights swerve toward you, don’t panic”