Anybody with any power these days wants to take us backward, it seems. The next director of the United States environmental agency wants to repeal regulations and international commitments that make the world healthier. Dictators and rebels want us to forget the rules of war enshrined in international treaties. Corporations racing to automate want to pretend their workers (or “clients” in Uber parlance) are robots already, destroying the dignity and security of people.
Naturally, not everyone is pleased. Environmentalists, human rights lawyers and unions fought for decades, maybe a century, for the rights that an elite class is now trying to pulverize. Even as these new leaders enjoy hefty popular support, the progressive activists are fighting back, emboldened by record donations to civil rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations.
Just write about the people.
In the overwhelming context of these culture wars and real wars, journalists have a newly important but controversial role. Not many people trust us anymore. Formerly objective reporters have done away with the “view from nowhere,” taking stands on issues they can’t see two sides of, like gay rights or the need for action on climate change. I’m one of them. While justifiable, the proliferation of subjective reporting has undermined public accountability and even the reality of empirical facts.
The solution is simple: Just write about the people. In people-centered storytelling, the journalist’s function isn’t to distinguish right from wrong. It’s to faithfully represent the beliefs and actions of others. In the exploration of decision and consequence, right and wrong emerge. The outcome, over years, will be a society stronger in empathy, imagination and shared purpose.
If you agree, then you’ve picked up the correct magazine. As a reader, thank you for taking equal part in the important work of storytelling. And remember you’re always welcome to share your own stories with us at latterly.org.