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Issue Date:  November 24, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

In dangerous places

Some might question the mental soundness of anyone who considered a trip to the Middle East to report on the Palestinian-Israeli situation a prize to pursue, much less accept. Second prize, maybe two weeks in Baghdad?

But then there are people like Chris Herlinger and Paul Jeffrey, who have an affinity for reporting on disintegrating cultures and chronicling maddeningly difficult and violent circumstances that defy reason and solutions. Each of them has previously won the Eileen Egan Award from Catholic Relief Services for excellence in international reporting, Herlinger most recently for his reports from Darfur, Sudan.

When reporters like Herlinger and Jeffrey go into dangerous places to report for NCR, it is as much because of their own personal desire to disclose the stories of those who rarely have access to media as it is for professional advancement. I can tell you -- and they would certainly verify -- there is no four-star hotel or fat paycheck waiting for them at the end of the day. There’s a paycheck, but it isn’t fat.

The narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian standoff on both sides of the divide is, I believe, stale beyond tolerance. And yet there is probably no more important component to peace in that region than resolving the standoff.

This week’s story is primarily about the Palestinian side of things. The second part will more deeply explore the thinking of some religious figures in the region as well as the Israeli view of things, from the official view to some of the many layers of views that exist in Israeli society, layers that rarely get much play in the mainstream media.

The Eileen Egan Award is given for reporting on issues of concern to the developing world. Writers have won the award four times since 1996 for work appearing in NCR.

~ ~ ~

It was just a few days ago that I was referred to, during a discussion of new Internet possibilities, as “an old print guy.” There is no escaping such an appellation. I am. I bleed ink. I love “print products.” I’ve been involved with newsprint of one sort or another since 1968.

At the same time, I would argue that I am just as inevitably becoming a “new Internet guy,” in the sense that I believe it is a medium with such phenomenal possibilities that it can’t be ignored. It will continue to reshape journalism and our social conversation generally in ways yet unimaginable.

One of the most apparent ways, of course, is speed. Within minutes of posting columns or news stories, thousands begin to click on to read. A lot of people also take time to comment. That’s another feature, of course, the ability of readers to have their say. Immediately.

That’s certainly the case with the new Recently we posted a survey, asking basic information about how often people use the cafe and what they most liked, and that sort of thing. We were surprised in two ways -- the number of people who answered the survey: more than 1,575 less than a week after it was posted. And by the answers to the question: “Has a column or conversation at encouraged you to take action on an issue?” Hundreds who responded yes took time to explain. Some said they were working as they never had before on election campaigns; others said they were made more aware of social issues such as poverty and were beginning to volunteer. One was going to attend a candlelight vigil for homeless children. Others had shared articles from the Web site; someone was going to join a protest in Arizona to coincide with the SOA protest at Fort Benning, Ga. Someone joined a scripture group; another invited Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, one of our columnists, to speak. One reader had written the bishops to express disappointment that they had not supported Pope Benedict more openly; a lot had decided to write their members of Congress.

The list goes on for 11 pages and includes a comment from one person whose action was to decide not to read Sr. Joan Chittister. Did I mention that the conversation on the cafe is wide open and includes all points of views? We’re quick to intercede if the language is inappropriate or involves personal attacks, or if someone seems intent only on disrupting conversation. Most often, what happens are fascinating discussions from an unusually wide spectrum of views. Stop in, have a chat.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, November 24, 2006

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