Observations of an American journalist in Azerbaijan, Russia and USA.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Thank God for young people! On Tuesday, attendance in the class had dropped to four, and the energy level was flagging. So – the word went out in certain circles and on Wednesday, we had an influx of about ten new students. Some of them are still in high school. That’s fine. I’d rather have an inexperienced youngster than an older person who thinks he knows everything and knows why things cannot be done differently.
Also – it was good to see a mix of sexes. I don’t have the attendance sheet in front of me, but I think the proportion was fairly evenly divided between male and female.
I can predict that in any group of students, there will be a wise-ass. Usually this student is male, but not always. But often the wise-ass can ask interesting questions, even if the motivation might be less than constructive. In this case, the wise-ass is a male student, who also happens to be the best English speaker of the students. The wise-ass questions are usually posed to challenge the teacher in some way. But – if the questions are taken the right way, they can be useful. The main thing is to not take the questions personally. On my way home, I was thinking about some of his questions. (Not all of the questions. Do I believe in UFOs? Hmmm. Agnostic on that question.)
Have I ever written propaganda? I answered this one in class with a categorical “no.” But – I also realize that the answer is not so simple. Propaganda to some extent is defined by the reader. So readers who disagree with facts or a viewpoint are likely to call it propaganda.
This is what my dictionary says about propaganda:
propaganda noun 1 chiefly derogatory information, esp. of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view : he was charged with distributing enemy propaganda. • the dissemination of such information as a political strategy : the party's leaders believed that a long period of education and propaganda would be necessary . 2 ( Propaganda) a committee of cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church responsible for foreign missions, founded in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. ORIGIN Italian, from modern Latin congregatio de propaganda fide ‘congregation for propagation of the faith’ ( see sense 2 ). Sense 1 dates from the early 20th cent.
I have never written news articles that were in the service of any political cause. But I have written editorials that openly supported a political point of view. To people of opposing viewpoints, these may have been interpreted as propaganda.
And while my news articles were not in the service of one political party, I have written articles that in the end favored one interpretation of the facts over another. This is the nature of journalism. We journalists collect information, and then we select which facts we will use in our writing. We choose how we are going to use the information. It is a human enterprise, and humans have opinions. So, this is a much longer answer than I gave to the wise-ass question.
I also chewed on his question about whether I had ever changed my mind about a story. I was able to confidently answer “yes” to this question. In fact, there are numerous articles that I have written where I went in with one point of view and that point of view changed – albeit sometimes subtly – over the course of researching the subject. I have gone into interviews thinking I would dislike the subject, and then found that we had some real areas of agreement. I have had interview subjects persuade me about the validity of their point of view. So, I feel quite confident in my answer to this question – but it is still a good question to ask. A good question to ask myself. A journalist should retain an open mind.
Here are a couple of photos from yesterday evening. The downtown mosque at dusk, and the scene in the park near the mosque. While the fellows played pool, the fountains danced to a recording of classical music. A funny juxtaposition.