Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A reflection on the media

Every now and again, you realize that book promotion isn't the most important thing in the world. In China, at least 18,000 people may have lost their lives because of an earthquake. I can't imagine the suffering the Chinese are experiencing now. I can empathize, because I've felt pain -- but not that kind of pain.

And, as a separate but related matter, try to imagine this: You're a journalist in Myanmar. You've just survived a natural disaster that has killed thousands. And now you're living in fear of the government which, according to a CNN.com article, is scapegoating members of the media now. See (I'm trying to see, but again, it's almost impossible to imagine this): the government feels that, if word about how tragic the cyclone really was ever leaked out beyond Myanmar, then its (the government's) credibility would be undermined. Therefore, journalists must fear for their lives if they do their jobs and report the story.

You know, we're trying to get publicity for books, and we see journalists as a means to an end: increased visibility and, ultimately, more book sales. But try telling a Myanmar-based journalist whose life is in danger today that your focus is on book promotion. Sort of puts things in perspective for this book publicist.

But here's a story that I read yesterday that makes me feel that, sometimes, journalists have the best job in the world. Before her widely-published obituary, had you ever heard of Irena Sendler? To see her picture is to know that she was an angel. Ms. Sendler was a Polish hero who saved the lives of 2,800 Jewish children and babies during World War 2. She went into the Warsaw Ghetto, and she found a way to take out these children -- illegally, obviously -- and to give them a chance. What's more, she made a list of their real names hoping that somehow, some way, they could be reunited with their biological families after the war.


Ms. Sendler was living in relative obscurity in Poland until a journalist, somewhere, figured out who she was and what she'd done. Now she's the object of worldwide appreciation, veneration, and awe.

That's what a journalist should be doing. They shouldn't be in hiding, and they shouldn't be fearing a knock on their doors, as they must be now in Myanmar.

As my immigrant grandmother told me about 15 million times, during her lifetime, we are very lucky to be U.S. citizens. We may not always appreciate it, but on days like today, I think I do. Reflecting on the media makes me realize how lucky we are to be here, now, and contacting the media about our books -- rather than trying to find food, water, shelter, or lost family members.

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