Tuesday Column — A Dose of Perspective

Sometimes, you get a dose of perspective and inspiration when you least expect it.

Mine came Friday afternoon. My boss asked me to sit in on a visit by a pair of journalists from Azerbaijan. I’d like to say I was enthused, but hey, it was Friday afternoon.

I had to hit Google to figure out exactly where Azerbaijan is. As it turns out, it’s on a very important piece of real estate bordering Iran, Russia, Georgia, Armenia and the Caspian Sea.

The journalists, including a young columnist, were curious about how an American newspaper operates. They asked a lot of questions through an interpreter about how many employees we have, how many papers we print and so on. They were especially curious about our advertising, who buys it and how much we sell.

This didn’t seem like exciting stuff. I admit checking the clock a couple of times. But then, the young columnist turned to the interpreter and spoke for quite awhile.

Then the interpreter explained.

The columnist was sorry for asking questions that might seem simplistic, but they are journalists who work or have worked for opposition newspapers that stand up to the nation’s oppressive government. They’re interested in advertising because it’s very difficult for their publications to sell ads. Businesses are afraid to buy them for fear the government will retaliate.

They then went on to talk about journalists who have been beaten, stabbed and jailed in Azerbaijan with either the direct involvement or tacit approval of the government. Others have been silenced through trumped-up lawsuits.

Newspapers have been shuttered by a government frightened that its citizens will learn the truth. The columnist said her pieces have been altered by those fearful of retribution.

In short, these young writers are risking much to speak truth to power. I felt a mixture of inspiration and embarrassment.

While I worry over whether I’m using Twitter enough and obsess over blog hits, there are journalists out there taking real hits. I’m concerned about the future of print. They’re concerned about a future in prison.

But meeting them was also a much-needed reminder of why I got into this business, and why I’ll never regret choosing this vocation, even if it does go the way of the rotary dial phone.

Who knows how long I’ll get to do this. But I do know the next time I’m reluctant to write what I think because I’m afraid of nasty e-mail, I’m scared to ask a question that might offend or I’m skittish about tackling a touchy subject, I’ll think about our visitors from Azerbaijan.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Tuesday Column — A Dose of Perspective

  1. ctiger

    If you really mean it Todd, you will have the respect of many along with the nasty E-mails. Remember that having enemies is a sign of character.
    Our law makers are passing increasingly oppressive laws behind closed doors, labeling and demonizing groups of people who are no threat to society, yet many journalists won’t take a stand and add a voice of reason to the fear and hysteria created by our “leaders.”
    Will you have the courage to speak out? I have, but I’m nobody.

  2. Diana Rae Patten

    Mr. Dorman,

    I usually find your column interesting, sometimes thought provoking. However, when I read today’s column I was embarrassed and disappointed. We have visitors to our city/state/country…and you are looking at your clock, bored? It’s only when they ‘humble’ you with the story of their background that you are embarrassed and then become attentive?

    Being ‘inclusive’ to guests who visit or move here can already be a challenge for us in this part of the country…I am thinking this type of behavior may not be sending the ‘glad you are here’ message that would be respectful of our guests.

  3. tdorman

    Diana, I’m afraid you’re taking my tablespoon of Friday afternoon ennui and trying to fill a swimming pool of disrespect. I was not disrespectful, and took part in the conversation with the visitors. I’m also sorry if that’s all you got out of the column.

  4. Diana Rae Patten

    Mr Dorman,

    I understand trying to be light and funny (and that’s what I appreciate about your column..your wit). However, I read this column from the ‘eyes’ of visitors and it just didn’t come off as funny.

    I do appreciate you getting back to me so quickly.

    Thank you.

    Diana

  5. george

    The truth to power idea is about eight years late. But I hope something can still be salvaged.

  6. Christine

    Mr. Dorman was in no way trying to be funny.
    He was making the point that Journalists can get focused on unimportant matters because it is more comfortable than taking a stand on unpopular issues.
    He then showed how the encounter with those visitors served as a wake-up call. That is a very important insight for all of us, not just Journalists, if we want to continue to enjoy our freedoms.
    We all have become blind to what really is going on.

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