oD Blog

From the new Editor in Chief, in an unrelaxing world

Mary Fitzgerald headshot in circle, small
Mary Fitzgerald
25 September 2014

This year, for the first time in life, I’ve found myself wanting to turn off the news. Perhaps this happens to you all the time, but for me it’s a first. I’m a news junkie - to an embarrassing degree. (My husband likes telling the story of how, after a run of late press nights quite soon after I’d moved in, he wandered into the living room at 3am to find me glued to an obscure debate on the BBC Parliament Channel on the grounds that I was “relaxing”.)

But these last few months have been tough, even for a committed media addict. Somehow, the horror paraded on our screens has felt more awful. Calculations on Capitol Hill about how many refugees it’s ok to leave stranded on a mountain in northern Iraq to suffer medieval brutality; diplomatic bluster and tit-for-tat sanctions while eastern Ukraine is annexed; thousands die in sub-Saharan Africa from an epidemic that could have been avoided, were the bloated markets for heartburn relief and anti-inflammatories not so profitable.

Working at Avaaz taught me that to inspire people to action, you need to offer them hope - and no matter how unsurmountable a problem seems, hope can always be found if you look hard and think creatively enough. I still passionately believe this. But lately I’ve been struggling to find that inspiration.

These are exactly the reasons I accepted the challenge to join openDemocracy. Many of the most difficult problems we face today are rooted in forces whose powers are mushrooming just as the media’s ability to hold them to account is waning: multinationals hiding vast profits in tax havens while their employees advise governments on fiscal policy, the security services trampling our freedoms to keep us ‘safe’. In other words, the world has probably never needed independent, public interest, not-for profit journalism - in the form of fresh ideas and rigorous debate - more than it does right now.

What do I mean by that? What I don’t mean is journalism that is controversial just for the sake of it, or media that strives for a ‘neutrality’ that can often reinforce the status quo (we in the UK have the BBC for the latter). What I do mean is high-quality reporting, analysis and debate that interrogates the underlying structures of the world we live in, unconstrained by commercial imperative or political allegiance. That asks the uncomfortable questions and prompts proper, thoughtful answers. Why did so many liberal Egyptians support last year’s military coup? Why didn’t the Syrian army implode and overthrow Assad as so many ‘experts’ and western intelligence agencies were predicting? What does the Scottish referendum tell us about not just British democracy but the will to self-government everywhere?

What I mean, in other words, is openDemocracy.

openDemocracy matters. But to rise to the challenges the world presents us with today, we need to make it matter more. That means not only growing our readership, but significantly widening the discussion and experimenting with new forms of content, new models of funding and new mechanisms for participation. All this, while still doing what we do now excellently.

As my predecessor Magnus Nome wrote: “openDemocracy is like a room full of wise people; listening to them talk is great, overhearing them argue even better, but nothing beats joining the conversation.”

So this is an invitation to join that conversation. Write to us at [email protected] and tell us what you like and don’t like, but even more important: tell us what you’d like to see more of, what excites you about what openDemocracy is, can and should be.

We’ll be asking you a lot more questions in the coming months and years, and really listening to your answers. I can’t promise how we will focus on every issue. Mostly, because this is openDemocracy, we’ll be placing a lot of options before you. But I can guarantee that into 2015, we’ll be revisiting the Magna Carta for inspiration on how to knock back arbitrary power in all its forms. It was, 800 years ago, an English argument between barons and a king, but it has come to symbolise the rule of law and holding power to account everywhere. We’ll be asking tough questions about how democracy works and doesn’t work all over the world. And we will continue to probe how change can come about, inspired by Transformation’s search for the love that does justice.

I want you to be able to watch the news knowing that openDemocracy can respond to it with rigour and humanity. We can’t do this without your full participation - and for that, we will be asking for your best ideas and inviting you to tell us what you think of ours.

In hope once again,

Mary Fitzgerald

September 2014

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