“Is the news as bad as it looks?” Christian Science Monitor editor, Marshall Ingwerson, asks the almost-capacity crowd at Principia’s 14th annual Monitor Night Live (MNL) last Thursday.
“Now, I’m going to guess that some of you here are really not too baffled about which side we’re going to come down on… That actually, maybe the world is not as bad as it looks. But the mystery here – the real dramatic tension in the room – is: Will you buy it?”
Ingwerson was not being rhetorical when he asked the Wanamaker Hall audience whether they would believe the world was in better shape than the last year’s news has suggested. The roughly 12 months since the Monitor last visited Principia have been punctuated with some shocking world events, including the rapid spread of Islamic extremist group, Islamic State (ISIS) across Iraq and Syria and the recent terrorist attacks on the offices of French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.
The Monitor gave itself the best opportunity to prove its commitment to, as Ingwerson put it, “find the light in dark places,” with some of newspaper’s best staff attending. Photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman and Atlanta-based correspondent Patrik Jonsson were on stage, and the bureau chiefs in Jerusalem and Beijing, Christa Case Bryant and Peter Ford, respectively, joined via Skype.
Ingwerson asked Ford, who had just returned from Paris the day before, how the Monitor had approached its coverage of the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks. Ford said that while much of the political and media debate had focused on whether Europe should clamp down on Muslims, the Monitor had worked on a cover article due out in three weeks with a very different angle.
“[We focused on] what people have been doing around Europe, not just around France, but elsewhere in Europe, to try to prevent young European Muslims from falling into jihadism… as their form of self expression. And actually a great deal has been done,” he said.
Touching on the global reach of the extremist threat, Ford pointed to the generally accepted view among the world’s top security agencies that there is no guarantee of thwarting every attack, but that the best preventative measures may be earlier intervention, which would deter youth from becoming radicalized in the first place.
Switching to Bryant in Jerusalem as she sipped her early-morning tea, Ingwerson asked her about the rise of ISIS in the region, which had caught the world so off guard. Bryant noted the group’s beheadings and other wanton acts of violence but was quick to find a progressive angle. She pointed to the way in which the recent burning of a Jordanian fighter pilot had led to a marked reduction in support for ISIS in that country.
“It’s hard to look at that and say, ‘where is the light here?’ But it is driving considerable shifts in the region. Just in Jordan this past week, there was really a change of perspective about ISIS,” Bryant said.
Speaking of her experiences reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bryant told of the immense kindness and generosity shown her by strangers from both sides despite the conflict.
Mass communication and global perspectives double major Dani McKenzie said Bryant’s stories were her favorite part of MNL.
“I enjoyed seeing pictures from her visit to Gaza. It is easy to get caught up in the politics of it all, but we have to remember that we are all human,” McKenzie said.
Shifting countries, Freeman, currently in her 30th year as a photographer for the Monitor, shared a slideshow of her photographs from her time covering the AIDS epidemic in South Africa, which crippled the country. While not shying from hardships, she moved the audience with poignant shots of people giving their lives to supporting children who have been orphaned by the virus. She spoke of the immense progress the country has made recently in its push to overcome the disease.
Senior mass communication and political science major Lyssa Winslow said she appreciated that Stetson Freeman’s photography was included in MNL.
“I appreciated the photography section of this year’s Monitor Night Live because we were able to hear about stories we don’t typically read about when we pick up a newspaper,” she said.
“I enjoyed this year’s Monitor Night Live more than other years,” Winslow added.