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She went the distance to tell a story

The world is full of unreported news. Inside every human there are a thousand stories. Probably only one in a million gets told. It makes a difference, therefore, who gets to tell the tale and from what perspective. Who’s to say whether a war is a bigger story than a personal betrayal or a disinterested act of kindness? Much may depend on how far we are away from the war.

Wealth is not just a measure of money. At a more profound level it includes health and much besides. And it generally includes the ability to get one’s story out. When cardinals or media superstars call a news conference, they are more likely to draw a crowd than is the homeless man under a bridge. Similarly, the mighty United States is likely to win the propaganda war against just about any adversary.

This situation poses challenges for editors everywhere. What news ought to be told? Should the standard be “tell them what they want to hear” or something else? And if something else, who decides? What most seem to want to hear, late in this seemingly tired century, is the endless chitchat of so-called news anchors or equally lite newspaper fare.

In such an atmosphere the guy under the bridge has little chance. And faraway misfortune is only a whimper. We call the victims of news monopolies the voiceless. One thing NCR has tried to do is be a voice for those not otherwise heard, from Latin America to your local ghetto. Yet there are always more silent or silenced countries and individuals than resources to make them heard.

In a perfect world there would be an NCR reporter in each country, even in each village, where stories stop being generalizations and become real life. We usually do the next best thing -- grab the opportunities.

When a chance arose for Teresa Malcolm to visit Thailand last August, we asked her for an update on a country where she spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer. The results begin on page 13.

There has been much talk for several years about “the Asian Miracle.” Then in recent months the miracle seemed to go sour. The stories, good and bad, were usually abstractions. Malcolm brings us the personal story. She visited old friends and colleagues, went into the poor sections.

True, this, too, only scratches the surface of the million stories there. Perhaps we owe it to the Thais and others to use our imaginations to flesh out those faraway places as we are asked to do with a work of art or a prayer.

Yes, it transpires that, all along, there were poor people. And other miseries. As well as faith, hope and occasional love and good deeds and much besides that is not bought with money but is a different kind of miracle.

The story that reached us here in the West, of progress and good times, was the story told by those with the wealth to tell it their way.

Telling poor people’s stories must surely be a corporal work of mercy in these harsh times.

Editor at large Arthur Jones becomes more peripatetic with each advancing year. Customarily it means he’s dropping in on a parish somewhere to find out what they’re doing that works. And how and why.

But Jones has been muttering that he’s worried about painting a lopsided picture of how things are. He reminds us he also hears about the priest in Maryland who recently preached there was no salvation outside the Catholic church -- shades of radio’s Fr. Feeney, who was excommunicated for the same screed until he later repented.

And then there’s the ordained young Turk of a certain prissy kind, says Jones, whose liturgical vestment sleeves droop low enough to hide a dog in and who publicly corrects the lectors if he doesn’t like their pronunciation or enunciation.

Jones would like to hear about other bad manners and insults to the intelligence of the faithful uttered from the altar. Not to publicly identify the perpetrators. He wants to ensure this conduct not go unnoticed in a country where unfriendly priests or parishes also are a reality. Send letters to him at Box 2060, National Press Bldg., Washington DC 20045 or phone him at (202) 662-7191.

National Catholic Reporter, December 26, 1997