On ‘Good’ News and the State of Diasporan Journalism

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Nearly every article in this week’s issue either directly engages with or subtly references certain changes taking place in Armenia today. It’s safe to say at this point, that these changes are good ones; positive developments for the country and for humanity (even those opinion pieces expressing skepticism still bear strong traces of hope and and approval). Perhaps the only parties disappointed by the change are those getting justly ousted by it, and this is certainly not the majority, at least one hopes.

But the steady influx of inspiring headlines from the homeland has also led our editorial staff to think more deeply about what good news really means, and the idea that at the end of the day, it’s all a bit relative. Isn’t it true, for example, that the news from Armenia is only good because before last April, it was so objectively bad? Is it perhaps the case, then, that ‘good news’ necessarily bears a parasitic relationship to the bad? These are the quixotic meanderings of our editorial board (though that doesn’t make them untrue).

And sometimes, it’s the case that news is neither bad nor good, but it just simply is. This week, we broke the news that the Weekly’s editor, Rupen Janbazian, will be resigning from his role as editor of the paper and moving into the next phase of his career. Again we come face to face with the conundrum: It’s sad news for the paper, but only because Rupen was such a valuable addition to it. He will be missed, but we wish him luck, and know that good things await.

To the Diaspora more broadly, it can sometimes be hard to discern whether news is good or bad, simply due to the nature of how we report on the Diasporan experience (or more often than not, fail to). How does one read the headlines of our newly integrated “Diaspora” section? Differently, of course, than one would read headlines from its “Armenia” counterpart.

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Reporting the news from territorial Armenia is, in many ways, far more straightforward than reporting news from the Diaspora–perhaps not easier, but certainly more conventional. News from Armenia proper can fall into one of a number of categories: economy, business, environment, politics, so on and so forth. The same does not go, however, for an entity as complex as the Armenian Diaspora.

The Diaspora cannot, for example, have a section devoted to its natural environment, for it is defined by its lack of one. Dispersed in so many different host countries, on whose environment would you choose to report? Similarly, economics for the Diaspora is also rather elusive, because it’s so impossible to measure. In fact, most measurable elements of Diasporan life bear more relationship in a broader sense to the demographics of the host country than anything else (though such a conclusion warrants further inspection).

The areas of Diasporan life on which we can concretely report are often related to politics, philanthropy, religion and, more abstractly, culture/arts; this is largely because there are numerous organizations dedicated to preserving these institutions in the community.

But even in those sectors, we are met with challenges. Whereas in Armenia today, there are journalists dedicated to covering the goings-on of the local community; the Diaspora has not maintained the kind of infrastructure necessary to do the same. A lack of human resources (i.e. independent reporters) and the funds to support them means that reporting in the Diaspora is performed, instead, by the very organizations being reported on. There simply aren’t dedicated, career journalists devoted to covering the complexities of the community on a consistent basis. It just hasn’t been a facet of our society we have invested in. As it were, objective reporting on the Diasporan state of affairs, i.e. ‘news’ in the traditional sense of the term, is thus next to impossible.

But that’s not to say there is a shortage of journalists and writers in the Diaspora–quite the opposite. In fact, the number of prominent Diasporans in the global journalism circuit is quite disproportionately large, when pared to the ratio of Armenians in the world. Many of these individuals have worked their way into important positions, and achieved great things, like for example, Ben Bagdikian, (a New England Armenian, no less!) who pushed for the Washington Post to publish the famed Pentagon Papers, exposing the United States’ government’s lies about the Vietnam War.

Continuing to use Bagdikian’s career as an example; it is said that his sensitivity to social injustice was primed, in a way, by an early exposure to the horrors of the Armenian Genocide, and the unresolved suffering of the Armenian Diaspora. It would be a fair bet to say this early ‘conditioning’ plays some role in the large number of Armenian Diasporans active in the arts, humanities, civil society, and journalism.

So it’s a wonder how–with such talent at our fingertips–the state of our very own media institutions has become so precarious. Diasporan Armenian journalists are a-plenty, but the institution of Diasporan journalism is growing increasingly frail. (It is worth mentioning that the same is not at all true for journalism in Armenia, which is very developed at this stage, and sufficiently able to report on itself without help from the Diaspora.)

Of course, not every ethnically Armenian journalist should necessarily feel an obligation to work for an Armenian newspaper. It is a great thing when articles written by career journalists about the Diasporan experience are published in larger, more prestigious publications, which reach millions of readers instead of thousands, and give those outside the Armenian community glimpses of who we are as a people (and all the diversity that entails). But must this take place to the exclusion of our homegrown news outlets? Why can’t our newspapers function as stepping stones for more writers? More designers? More documentarians?

Being on the frontlines of news in the Diaspora, our editorial staff has a duty to report to readers that the amount of original, independent coverage of local issues and events in our community is growing exceedingly scarce. Opinion pieces still trickle in, but real, original, investigative journalism is nearly entirely absent.

So, as a Diasporan newspaper, how do we fill our pages with meaningful, lasting, and worthwhile ‘coverage’ of our jurisdiction: the Diaspora? And is that something our community even expects of us? This is the question to which it is becoming increasingly urgent we find an answer. But we must be prepared that the news we receive won’t always be ‘good’ in the traditional sense. We must be prepared to hear the ‘bad’ news, as well. But maybe, that’s not such a bad thing.


Editor’s Note: A truncated version of this editorial appeared in the July 14 issue of the Armenian Weekly. Sometimes, it’s just hard to get it all in by deadline.

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Weekly Editorial Board

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