Meet The Guardian's 'Protest' section -- a sign that the times, they are a-changin'

Go to the Website of The Guardian, the left-leaning British newspaper, and you'll find an array of stories grouped by subject, just as you will at other online news sites. It's the usual line up. There's world news, science, business, fashion, travel, tech, sports, opinion and others.

But, lo and behold, there appears to be something new under the sun in the news gathering business on display at The Guardian, one of the most-accessed news sites around. Or at least something new when it comes to organizing that which has been gathered.

Click "All Topics" on the The Guardian's home page and you can find a category intriguingly named, "Protest." You can also find it via the world section, or, easiest of all, just plug "protest" into the site's internal search engine.

Protest? Sounds like some '60s underground paper out of Berkeley. Or more to the point, a finger on the pulse of the current level of global discontent.

I don't see The Guardian print edition so I'm in the dark as to whether it, too, has a Protest section. But I doubt it does.

That's because on some level, most news stories have an element of protest at their core -- natural disasters, NFL playoff games, obituaries, freak accidents and similar stories not withstanding. Protest stories are scattering across all sections in deadwood products. It's easy to cross-post on line, but you can't run the same story in multiple sections in print.

The Guardian uses a broad broom when it comes to Protest. Public demonstrations, both the utterly peaceful and the terribly violent, qualify. So do petitions and contrarian speakers at government hearings. In some cases, just registering a complaint is enough. U.K. domestic and international issues are included.

Protest signals disagreement. It's the red meat upon which the news business feeds

Someone or some group raises an objection and -- voila -- you have controversy, drama, confrontation. Mix those ingredients with some well-chosen words and a circumstance rises above the mundane to the level of "news."

Sometimes it's the news media itself that does the protesting via serious investigative journalism. (Have you seen "Spotlight" yet? It's a great example; a must see for any news professional.)

So if the zeitgeist is protest, if circumstances worldwide are such that people everywhere seem more frustrated, more angry, more willing to lash out and demand what they believe is rightfully theirs, how should journalists react, religion journalists included?

With some restraint, I'd say. After all, The Guardian exists in the context of a European media marketplace in in which advocacy journalism has a long history. America news isn't European-style news, yet.

But back to the main topic. Of course we report the news, in all its confusion, its unclarity, its "truthiness."

At the same time, journalists need to be careful about playing solely to the sense of virtually universal victimhood, and the fear that flows from it, that is also part of the zeitgeist. 

In no way do I mean to imply this is easy. It may even be impossible. There is no objective standard to follow. It's an entirely subjective call. We all have the right to disagree, to protest, another person's equally subjective viewpoint.

Disagreement is part of the human condition, and certainly it's not all bad. As often as not it spurs change for the good; the flip side of protest is progress.

I learned of The Guardian's Protest section in a column by Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times (like him or not, I think he arguably has one the very best jobs in all of journalism).

There's always been more than enough to protest to go around, he wrote, but given the technology available today to news organizations, not to mention anyone with Internet access, everyone else's reason to protest is now in your face. It's way to easy today to get emotionally caught up in protests happening in the most distant of places.

Some people become utterly turned off by all this conflict and opt out of following the news entirely. I met two such people last week alone. Others just get angrier and demand quick change, which is almost always near impossible, and often poorly thought through. Friedman argued:

In my view, this age of protest is driven, in part, by the fact that the three largest forces on the planet -- globalization, Moore’s law and Mother Nature -- are all in acceleration, creating an engine of disruption that is stressing strong countries and middle classes and blowing up weak ones, while super-empowering individuals and transforming the nature of work, leadership and government all at once.
When you get that much agitation in a world where everyone with a smartphone is now a reporter, news photographer and documentary filmmaker, it’s a wonder that every newspaper doesn’t have a “Protest” section.

It's quite understandable that people are morally aroused by the behavior they are exposed to by news media. The actions of the Islamic State, the most horrid of which are easily found on the Internet, is but one example.

Is it a mistake to air such videos with the appropriate content warning? I don't think so. It's the reality of the moment and must be documented, if only for historical purposes.

But it seems to me that the line between being informative and playing to the basest of human instincts is more fuzzy than ever. For this, we can thank, in the main, the explosion of Internet news sites that desperately compete with each other for eyeballs.

However, the algorithms are still not fully in charge. It's up to the real people, the journalists, to refrain from unnecessarily fanning the flames. But as I said above, that's an entirely subjective process, and a very difficult one at that.

I just thought a reminder couldn't hurt.

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