Wednesday, 7 January 2015

as the world cries #JeSuisCharlie …

Today, this morning, my calendar had penciled in a window of personal and professional goal setting. Today was a day to plan my future year ahead, but I find myself instead opening my computer to the horrors of the news coming in from Paris this morning.  Ten journalists at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, France now have no future. I am numbed by the headlines, tweets, posts and images of the massacre of the journalists, including four political cartoonists, along with the injuring of 20 other staff in the office on the publication’s team and sadly two police officers defending the threatened press members, are also dead.

When global terrorism strikes in my industry it hits home hard. I’ve sat there in a weekly editorial meeting many times over in my career (no gunman ever walked in the door shooting). The sharing of ideas, the editorial line up planning and creative brainstorming, the layout and advertising team all gelling together to deliver a print product worthy of readership press day after press day. Staying current, edgy, articulate, news worthy (enjoying freedom of speech, freedom of press). The creative team at a publication truly becomes a tight work-family as it takes all the pieces (10 lifeless creator bodies in the board room and 20 staff contributors all shot today around the office at Charlie Hebdo in Paris) to bring the ideas, flush them out, make them readable, paper eye candy and sellable at the same time. A small village produces a publication in a challenging creative dance each issue.

I remember back to my publisher chair on a weekly in Calgary when a few of the key staff, myself included, received disturbing and personally threatening letters one day. As an alternative weekly our content was not always for the middle-of-the-road reader (Charlie Hebdo magazine satirically challenged the status quo). We did not always please all of the readers all of the time and nor was that a publication goal. We did however offer a space to a popular columnist, Dan Savage, who has a great habit of pushing the morality-envelope every chance he gets to great brand success both humorous and insightful. The reader who sent the outright hate-mail blamed the staff for the lack of morality in the world, branding each guilty by association via publishing Savage Love weekly. Although ahead of the 911 attacks on all freedoms, the letters were disturbing enough to bring in the police. The envelopes were checked for contaminants, the staff were counseled, felt violated, personally attacked and very threatened for that which was printed in the pages of our paper. It was an alarming time. Our small and for the most part unnoticed alternative weekly experienced personal threats for doing our jobs and we each questioned our roles and our individual willingness to deliver on the underlying realities of the bigger picture of freedom of the press and free speech. A small scale incomparable story based on today’s Paris publication loss but one I can relate to on some level. I will never forget that September day, less than a month later, walking into the office to find the newspaper staff, my press-family, huddled around a tiny black and white TV screen in the break room. Stunned in dead silence as the images of the plane hitting the towers in New York seemed frozen on the static grainy screen. The world changed. Our freedoms changed. Freedom of the press changed forever.

One did not have to work on the leading edge of a CNN or CBC news team to feel the crush. Post 911 many writer colleagues across the country, and the globe, in all types of publications, questioned their roles. Delivering the truth was getting harder and harder, sadder and sadder, and yes riskier and riskier. To be part of an industry that brings the news and commentary to the world, good, bad or alternative, truthful, satirical or truthiness as Steven Colbert has dubbed it, all now runs with a grave risk. The reports that Reporters Without Borders’ annual “roundup of violence against journalists” recently released shows that globally in 2014 alone there were alarmingly 66 journalists killed, 119 kidnapped and 853 arrested.

Today in Paris that risk became a harsh reality. Many of those, ten, who came to work today at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, working at a publication which defended the freedom of words, the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, are now tragically gone. Violently obliterated from humanity and existence by those intolerant to freedoms.  Those who did not like what this particular alternative satirical publication had to deliver walked in and gunned down the staff injuring 20 of them and killing 10 along with 2 police officers.

We all lost a little more freedom today. While I write this I am being intimidated on twitter from an account retweeting my sharing of some of the global journalist stories unfolding. The suspect account tagging my tweets (@mur_candemir #Muslims) is full of vitriol and hateful threats for the French. Even myself, a non-politically-influential writer in rural nowhere a world away has been personally retweeted perhaps in some sort of fear tactic by this rogue account. Very unsettling. Life has escalated today beyond what many can comprehend, myself included.

Our humanity is in grave danger of obliterating each other over words. That makes the writer in me broken.

click this quote to read an amazing piece today by former Onion editor:
"Freedom of speech cannot be killed"

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