One of the most exciting parts of my job at the Boston Globe are the weekly editorial board meetings. (Yes, as a Neuffer fellow, I’m a member of the board – another insane fun fact about this fellowship). The board gets together every Monday morning to discuss published pieces, brainstorm story ideas and talk over possible directions of our work. A lot of the discussions cover local issues, such as the upcoming mayoral elections, which are new to me since I’ve been a proud Bostonian for only two months (at this point, I can offer my expertise on the local subs bars if anyone’s interested). But whenever we talk about human rights, social justice or international politics, I’m in my element.
Mondays are also the time for pitching, and last week I pitched an op-ed discussing why the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to journalists this year – for the first time since 1936. After a few minutes, I got a reply from our deputy editor Alan Wirzbicki, which read: “Would you be interested in writing on this topic as an editorial, instead of an op-ed, Ada?”
I grinned. Would I?!
For folks outside of the press bubble: the difference between an op-ed and an editorial is that the former is written from the point of view of an individual author, while the latter expresses the position of the editorial board. In printed papers, the op-ed page was traditionally placed opposite to the editorial page – hence the name. The idea was to create a dialogue between the writers affiliated with the publication and the guest writers (back in the days op-eds were written by outside authors, which is not necessarily the case anymore).
So in his e-mail, Alan was essentially proposing that I wrote a piece representing the standpoint of the entire editorial board. Pretty awesome, if you ask me.
I pitched this idea because the thrill I felt when I had learned about the Nobel Committee’s decision was laced with unease. Not because I don’t think that journalists should receive such awards – on the contrary. The importance of journalism in safeguarding peace and democracy is paramount, and both of this year’s awardees – Maria Ressa from the Philippines and Dmitri Muratov from Russia – are industry icons dedicated to these ideals. The prize is a well-deserved recognition of their stellar work.
But it also feels like a dark omen.
The previous journalist who had received the Nobel Peace Prize did not make it to the ceremony. He could not travel, not only to Oslo. It was 1936, and Carl von Ossietzky was incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp. Ossietzky was a German editor, pacifist and a vocal critic of Hitler. In 1929, he published an article which exposed that Germany was secretly rearming, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. He was charged with treason and espionage, and never regained his freedom.
As Maria Ressa, one of the 2020 awardees put it: “Essentially the Nobel Committee has told us that this moment is like that moment. (…) We are on the brink of the rise of fascism.”
Whether we agree with Ressa or not, one thing is undebatable – this award signals a dangerous era for journalism. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in 2020 a record 274 journalists were jailed for their work – the highest number since 1992. Among the high-profile authors who were murdered in the past decade were Jamal Khashoggi, Daphne Caruana Galizia, Jan Kuciak and Peter R. de Vries.
As I wrote in the editorial, “the expansion of social media platforms upended the information ecosystem, creating an ever-growing volume of disinformation while at the same time leaving outlets in many countries fragmented and underfinanced. The state of seemingly perpetual crisis has left many journalists working under precarious conditions, which makes them more vulnerable to assault.”
Working with Alan Wirzbicki on this editorial was probably the fastest I’ve ever gotten a piece out, because his edits were so accurate and elegant that I just said OK to all of them immediately. The piece was published today, also in print – which is a first for me at the Boston Globe. You can read it here. Don’t forget to tell us what you think!