“You Don’t Have To Be Extreme To Be An Activist” What an exciting reporting opportunity I had this spring when I covered the 50th anniversary of the first Teach-In an Ann Arbor. I met and talked to former Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) members as well as today’s young activists working for climate justice at the University of Michigan. Here’s what I found out about the changing face of activism from early pioneers of direct action as well as those who are continuing to work for social justice and change. The story was published in the July issue of The Ann Magazine (www.theannmag.com) as a centerpiece.
The Times must be willing to experiment more in terms of how it presents its content.” That is one of the many findings in this summary of the leaked 2014 New York Times Innovation report published by Harvard’s Neiman Journalism Lab. When one looks closely at the news outlets that are aggressively mastering new digital tools, the very painful truth is glaringly obvious–legacy outlets like the New York Times who still publish a print product are constrained by old habits, practices, and systems.
Here is the essential question: How can the Times become more digital while still maintaining a print presence, and what has to change? “That means aggressively questioning many of our print-based traditions and their demands on our time, and determining which can be abandoned to free up resources for digital work.” (p. 82)
It is important to focus on what the Times is doing because in many ways they set the standard for news organizations in American and also globally. If they are not publishing “digital first,” and designing and redefining news for the newsphere, then other organizations with fewer resources are less likely to also pioneer innovative practices.
One of those practices involves an “impact toolbox,” and teaching reporters and editors to design a social media strategy for stories. According to the report, at ProPublica, “that bastion of old-school journalism values,” reporters have to submit 5 possible tweets when they file stories, and editors have a meeting regarding social strategy for every story package. Reuters employs two people solely to search for underperforming stories to repackage and republish. (p. 43)
Tagging, structured data, and in general a visionary approach to data driven journalism are important new practices that allow outlets like the Huffington Post to “regularly outperform” the Times in traffic by aggregating and repackaging Times content.
Duke Reporters’ Lab concurred with the Times report–legacy practices are hindering real innovation: “Despite all the hype we’ve heard in the past five or 10 years, there is still a wide gap between digital haves and have-nots in the use of data reporting and digital tools — particularly between bigger national organizations, which have been most willing to try them, and smaller local ones, which haven’t.”
The Duke report, titled “The Goat Must Be Fed,” found that “hundreds of news organizations are still stuck in the analog past, doing meat-and-potatoes reporting that doesn’t take advantage of the new tools.”
It also highlights the truly distinctive and effective digital practices of pioneering outlets. Some of these site include Quartz, Vox, BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post. And some of the exciting work being done using digital tools include The Texas Tribune’s Ethics Explorer, Alexis Madrigal’s work for the Atlantic, and FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s new Web site on ESPN.
Each of these new practices, outlets, and sites exhibits the following new qualities of news: In the newsphere, news is networked, relevant, participatory and engaging. Pushing the boundaries and inventing new forms of news and the news story is the promising future of journalism.
I was an English major at Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania, a very pretty school on the Main Line of Philadelphia best known for its track and basketball teams. I knew I wanted to be a writer and a reporter, but that was about it. Here’s what I know now that I wish I knew then:
1. If you want a good job and a decent quality of life, getting a bachelor’s degree is just the first step. It “proves” to the outside world (and perhaps to yourself), that you’re smart, disciplined, ambitious, and that you possess a certain body of knowledge and skill. It really doesn’t guarantee anything.
I realize now that getting a “job,” often the reason most undergraduates, including myself, take on debt to earn undergraduate degrees, is part of an evolving process: It is not the ultimate goal of the degree.
2. Getting a degree was a part of my evolutionary process and growth as a human being. It helped me “grow up” on both the “inside” and the “outside.” On the inside, until I decided what I really, really, wanted, and I was ready to make the sacrifices to go after it, I was almost guaranteed not to get it! Early in my career, I was not willing to take any reporting job in any part of the country, and instead, took a public relations job because I did not want to risk a big geographic move. Later in my life, I published a book–something I have wanted for a very, very long time. I was willing to make many personal and professional sacrifices to accompish that goal.
3. On the outside, it’s vital to not merely master a skill set and body of knowledge , it’s also critical to possess interpersonal, leadership, communication, creative, and analytical skills to be a real competitive player now. That’s a fancy way of saying people have to like you if you want to work with them and get things done. You need to figure things out on the fly. Things are much more complicated in real life than in your professors’ classrooms. It matters that your shirt is ironed and that you haven’t been out all night when you show up for an important appointment or interview.
So how do you learn all this while you’re still in college? Get involved with campus activities, clubs, and groups. Show up for things, volunteer, help out. Even if you think you’re too busy, you really can’t afford not to learn these important life lessons now.
4. Keep your ultimate goal and next step clearly in sight. Why did you decide to go to college in the first place? Are your motivations and inspirations still the same? Has anything changed since you set your initial goal? If so, re-evaluate your efforts. With your ultimate goal firmly set, look at achieving it as a series of big and little steps. When viewed this way, you are always making progress and taking positive action.
On your graduation day, you will not be automatically transformed into a writer, reporter, social media analyst, nurse, engineer, computer programmer, or other professional. What little step can you take now that will move you closer toward achieving your goal? Discover what that is and do it now–then do the next thing.
5. Look for unexpected and exciting opportunities. I considered going to Australia to teach English for a year. Explore the edges of your comfort zone. Travel abroad. Volunteer for a year of service getting close to the land and otherwise push the boundaries of who you think you are.
6. Embrace everything especially your “mistakes.” That’s why they’re called “life lessons.”
7.Don’t be afraid to take chances and to follow your bliss. The esteemed mtythologist Joseph Campbell called us to “follow our bliss.”Sounds like good advice–especially if you can get paid for it.
“We had the fervent belief that we could change America. We believed in our country, but we believed our country was making some mistakes,” says Roger Manela, an early member of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a ‘60s political action group founded in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Manela handcuffed himself to a post at a Detroit Draft Board and began handing out SDS leaflets to protest the Vietnam War. “Join us,” Manela urged the other young men standing in their underwear. “This is an imperialist war,” shouted Manela. “Think about what you believe in,” he implored. “If you are against killing perfect strangers at the behest of a government that you know you have no control over, join us.” Manela was reprimanded, eventually released, and instructed to distribute his leaflets somewhere other than the Army base: he was not inducted into the military.
Unlike the ‘60s, when the Vietnam War and the draft affected just about everyone in some way, most young Americans now feel simultaneously powerless and uninterested in working for change. It’s been about 50 years since hundreds of thousands of American men were sent to Vietnam and the county’s youth took to the streets to protest what they believed was an unjust war. Looking back, there are important lessons to be learned from ‘60s activists. “Not everyone can be a hero, but everyone can be an activist,” says Roger Manela, who now counsels disenfranchised students at Detroit’s West Side Academy. Here are six suggestions from those who helped change America and end the Vietnam War:
(1) Begin Where You Are. You can bring political and social action into the things you are already expected to do, according to Manela. “Do what you do ordinarily and shift it to adhere to your values,” he says.
(2) Lead the way: others will follow, advises Tom Hayden, a founder of the SDS and principal author of their political manifesto, the “Port Huron Statement.” “In the ‘60s, there was a common reaction to local abuses,” says Hayden, who served in the California Assembly and State Senate, and just published “Listen Yankee: Why Cuba Matters” (Seven Stories Press 2015). “There was an outbreak of sit-ins at lunch counters that escalated from one town to multiple towns to a point where (in about three months) as many as 70,000 people had been arrested,” says Hayden. “It really didn’t have that much organization or money behind it. The traditional organizations got in line and helped along, but it was all young people who basically were acting as if they’d had enough, and were willing to stand up at some risk,” he says.
(3) Build coalitions. To bring about real and lasting social change, however, movements need sustained activity at a high level, according to William Gamson, a Boston College sociology professor and former University of Michigan faculty member who helped organize Ann Arbor’s historic anti-war Teach- in in 1965. Today’s activists often function in an episodic way—mobilizing briefly after a well-publicized event, such as the Ferguson shooting, or participating in a “March Against Monsanto.” Effective movements need sustained activity at a high level, according to Gamson. “Look for opportunities to join and integrate broader movements, “ says Gamson, who believes there was an intensity and focus during the ‘60s that is not present now.
The civil rights movement’s mobilization extended into the anti-war movement, according to Gamson. who co-directs the Media Research and Action Project at Boston College. “There was an intensity increased by a sense of betrayal that President Lyndon Johnson had misled people, and so there was an anger feeding it,” he says. The general public had a target to focus on—the U.S. government as the “creator of this intervention and a potential major actor in the civil rights movement,” according to Gamson, who believes it’s harder to find a single target today even though a lot of the problems are disturbingly similar.
(4) Look for small victories and create a full life. “People already have a sense of injustice: small victories are often really critical,” says Boston College’s Gamson. “Small victories can really lift that sense that we can really make a change here, create mobilization, and tie things together.”
(5) Prepare for a long struggle and avoid despair. “The most honorable thing you can do is to try to address some of the major problems which threaten the continuation of society in this country and on this planet,” says Tom Mayer, who taught for more than 40 years before retiring from the University of Colorado. Meyer was one of the original organizers of the University of Michigan’s groundbreaking anti-war Teach-in. “You have an obligation to society other than just to lead your private life and enrich yourself,” he says.
(6) Link your insides with your outsides. “There is no greater life than being an activist,” says Harvey Wasserman, a senior advisor to Greenpeace and a life-long activist. The real danger comes when beliefs conflict with action and your soul is at risk. The solution is to integrate who you are and what you do with what you believe.
I have been wanting to attend a meeting of the American Teilhard Association (ATA) for some time. I have been a member of the association for several years and enjoyed reading their newsletter and monograph series. I was also able to combine my travel to NYC for this year’s meeting with wonderful visits with dear friends and my son, which made the event all the more meaningful.
If you look at the ATA Web site, the first thing you’ll see are the words “energies of love” and the following famous quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:
The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.
From “Toward the Future,” 1936, XI, 86-87
I felt those energies of love so clearly and powerfully at the meeting on that warm and sunny Saturday in mid-May. Strangers immediately became colleagues and friends as we chatted about the mystical holy man who brought us together, Teilhard. Simply thinking about it and especially writing about it now is reconnecting me with that amazing energy.
Many scholars and devotees have dedicated their lives to interpreting, understanding, and extending the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Some of these scholars are named on the Teilhard Project site, a PBS documentary in development now. Studying Teilhard’s voluminous work can be an avocation or a vocation, however, the experiential knowledge of the energy of love is readily available to all of us. I’ll explain.
Georgetown’s John Haught gave the keynote address this year. A highlight of Haught’s talk for me was coming to a deeper understanding of Teilhard’s claim that he was a “pilgrim of the future,” a statement he made to Jean Houston. (Houston met Teilhard when she was a teenager. They took regular walks together in the City’s Central Park.) Dr. Haught explained that the future is calling all of us to be more, to strive, to evolve. “Love is a force of attraction that works through evolution,” says Haught. “It is only through the force of love that something more wonderful can be brought about.”
Haught explained that we need to go through a personal transformation to move up the hierarchy of consciousness. Think about it. For better or worse, most personal transformation comes from pain, challenges, and obstacles. One of my favorite quotes from Teilhard is: “What would we do without our enemies?” They are like sandpaper–they rub us shiny and smooth. They help free us release the baggage that holds us back.
Haught used the work of the integral theorist Alfred North Whitehead to build his argument about the “insideness of things.” I have used integral theory to develop new ideas about the news environment, our newsphere is how I describe it. Basically, integral theory explains the power of connectedness and explores our different relationships. We are always, always, in relation to ourselves, one another, and the world. We just don’t always recognize and move from that understanding. I believe Teilhard did.
Haught explained it like this: “In the synthesis of elements you will find meaning, connection with others in the future.” The world is being drawn toward unity, coherence, and intelligibility from ‘up ahead,’ according to Haught. “Only the eyes of hope can see life,” he told the ATA audience. “Life is only possible when something is trying to achieve.”
And he made it very real for all of us. “We need a vision of reality so we can get up in the morning and realize our lives matter,” says Haught. Is this the “Journey of the Universe” that the ATA promotes? I believe it is. “It makes narrative sense to look inside, look ahead, but you have to wait,” says Haught. “If the universe is a drama, you need to be patient and to wait for it to unfold.”
I can wait for the unfoldment, but not to access this wonderful energy. I am practicing connecting this way as much as I can.
We are what we think. We are what we know. We often unconsciously assimilate the stories we hear. They become what we talk about. They form our lives and evolve into our histories.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a mystic, scientist, philiospher, and priest, coined the word “noosphere” to describe the layer of thought that surrounds the earth. He died in 1955–well before today’s Internet and global computer networks. Yet he understood that what we think individually we share collectively. His prescient wisdom about the power of our communication technologies, which we are now witnessing in social media, can guide and inspire the creation of an enlightened newsphere.
Perception is the foundation of Teilhard’s cosmology, his grounding of the human experience, and the premise upon which he builds his explanation of the evolutionary process.
The newsphere places novel yet real and pressing demands on the news consumer now challenged to learn a new version of news literacy to filter the news noise polluting the world of journalism.
We need to learn to SEE news differently…as an ecology. When viewed as an ecology, news is not a product to be consumed but a conscious act to engage with and produce shared information that has value in a community. This is how cultures and societies create their histories.
Given the rise of 24/7 news cycles and smart phones, the job of the journalist has changed dramatically. “The new journalist is no longer deciding what the public should know. She is helping audiences make order out of it. This does not mean simply adding interpretation or analysis to news reporting. The first task of the new journalist/sense maker, is to verify what information is reliable and then order it so people can grasp it efficiently,” write Kovach and Rosensteil in their Elements of Journalism.
Quite simply, the public needs help sorting the truth for itself over time.
The activist, poet, and novelist Alice Walker visited Ann Arbor, Michigan recently. She told an auditorium mostly filled by young women to “be friends with the people of the world” especially when confronted with conflict. Walker, in an amazingly authentic and, of course, poetic voice, also told her audience that she believes “there is no system now in place that can change the course the earth is on.”
So where does that leave us earthlings? I believe that Walker would agree that embracing the ideas of integral theories and theorist, such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Ken Wilbur, and Steve MacIntosh, is an ideal place to start. Ultimately, our most important relationship is with ourselves. As this basic integral theory chart shows, we are always in relation to the environment and others, but as Walker so eloquently stated and demonstrated by her own powerful and authentic life, our primary relationship is with our selves.
The newsphere is sustained by the energy of integral journalists committed to a dialogue style of news. It is composed of news consumers who keep their hearts and minds open and listen with the possibility that they might change their thinking about long-held beliefs and convictions. It is fueled by intelligent networks that work individually and collectively to keep content open and self-vetting. Never forget–it starts with us.