Sunday, June 6, 2010

Masks Asking Vicarious Questions


From The Mask (

My meeting with the executive editor of a regional newspaper did not go well at all. He very kindly gave me much of his time but then took strong exception to something I had written in the syllabus of my journalism course at Concordia University Irvine. I had pilloried the reason given by most contemporary journalism students for wanting to make a career in the media. They wish to “make this a better world.”

Our disagreement on this point was generational and hence evidently insuperable. I am 73, and he was about two decades younger. If I were American, I would be considered a pre-baby boomer. He on the other hand was a post-boomer. Having been exposed to the calamitous consequences of ideological thinking, the axiom that the road to hell is paved with good intentions still resonates with me strongly. His view of good intentions, however, was evidently less jaded -- to the extent that he ended our collegial relationship there and then. I never heard from him again.

Well, what Rudyard Kipling observed about East and West seems to apply even more forcefully to the rapport between “pre” and “post”-boom media people: ‘Ne’er the twain shall meet.” When I was a cub reporter half a century ago, my seniors told me that my opinions on any given matter were immaterial. My job as a reporter was to research and write as fairly and factually as humanly possible. In other words, as a journalist, I was to ask questions vicariously in the original sense of this word, which is rooted in the Latin vocable, vicarius, meaning: “in the place of…” A reporter is inquisitive in the place of his readers. Therefore, a reporter must not arrogate upon himself the role of “making this a better world,” as little as a baker would bake bread to “make this a better world.” He bakes to nourish. Period.

Like bakers or plumbers or physicians or lawyers, journalists have the calling to serve their neighbors, and journalists do this by being relentlessly and – here we have that word again – vicariously curious. Tragically, this vicarious sense of wonderment that has lured me to journalism in the first place, and has remained with me ever since, has gone out of fashion in much of today’s journalism. Most reporters, though thank God not all, have had this sense of wonderment lobotomized from their souls by liberal arts professors, I expect. It is of course easier to “hit the beat” as a 22-year-old trying to tell his readers and listeners what to think, than to keep wondering on their behalf. I pity self-important media people of that ilk. They have no concept of what a tremendous vocation journalism can really be.

Then again, perhaps by remaining relentlessly inquisitive, journalists could actually help protect this world from getting worse. In an email, I politely offered this notion to the editor as a compromise of sorts. He did not reply.

*Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto, an international journalist, is the executive director of The League of Faithful Masks.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Dr. Netto,
    I just tried to send a message to the Masks site, but unfortunately the link for 'Contacts' does not respond. My original message was concerning a missing link for the message under Pastor Daniel Harmerlink - it is not there. It is linked instead to the same message under Engineer David Atkinson's message 'A Mask Handling the Soil.'
    Alistair McPherson