Those of you within complaining distance of me (and the reach of my whine is long) know that I'm in business school -- right now I'm studying financial accounting and "business law and ethics". I could make the cheap joke about law, ethics and business being some sort of extended oxymoronic menage-a-trois, but I do think that it makes sense to take them both at once, as accounting is a grey art at best, and although creative writing might be more synergistic (those quarterly reports are some great magical realism), studying law and ethics simultaneously makes for a good counterbalance.
Besides the balance, there seems to be another thread that I'm uncovering both in my studies and in my work at IndustryWeek -- namely, although all politics may be local, all business is global. What this means for us as trade journalists is pretty obvious -- the flattening of the world has enabled wider horizons, and new opportunities dot this newly revealed landscape if you've got the time to look around for them. Your readers should be doing the same.
With these global opportunities, though, may come some new threats and challenges that might be foreign to U.S. journalists. I have a cousin who is teaching in Myanmar, and she basically communicates to the rest of the family by blog. (Here's a link to her husband's community service organization if anyone's interested in donating to help the people of Myanmar.) When the crackdown came, the government shut down all lines of communication in and out of the country (I must admit, I didn't even know that was remotely possible) and although my cousin is smart and resourceful, it seemed a strange and dislocating experience to have those lines cut. I'm glad its over (for now at least), and truly hope it doesn't happen again, but I also hope that the people there get the right to determine their own destiny.
But are our rights right for everyone? I was listening to "On the Media" on NPR the other morning, and a Russian journalist was railing against the show for trying to impose values like "freedom of the press" onto other societies that might not appreciate them so much. (I know we hold certain truths to be self-evident, but does that make us self-obsessed?) All studies of ethics aside, I might be singing that same tune if my colleagues were dying in all sorts of interestingly accidental ways.
That argument had been percolating in my head for a day or two when, while doing some research for a class presentation on China, I came across some blog posts from the front lines of the battleground between the forces of censorship and the forces of a burgeoning free press in that country. (Rebecca McKinnon sums them up nicely -- her experience getting censored by Tianya, a Google-funded Chinese blog service, and others provided me with the title for this post). All around the world, people are dying to do the same thing I'm doing here, for bigger and better reasons.
Which brings me to a quick story. I was at a software conference in Germany earlier this year, and got to meet and strike up a friendship with an IT guy from Tehran. We both agreed that peace and prosperity are two universal desires, and agreed just as much that our leaders were acting, shall we say, counterproductively to our achieving those shared goals (our conversation happened at the height of the recent war drum crescendo from the White House). It was a great conversation -- he absolutely didn't believe me when I told him that Barack Hussein Obama, the bi-racial son of a single mom with Muslim roots on his fathers side, was running in a close race for the Democratic nomination for President.
I truly felt as if I had the opportunity to express one of those "freedoms" that our politicians have taken us to war over, not to mention damn near talking to death by now. Since that day, I've kept up our correspondence, and even took to forwarding a couple of his more insightful emails around to friends, but I noticed that every time I did, I made sure to wipe his name out from the signature and address line.
Why? I'm feeling a little paranoid these days. "For his sake, not mine" I tell myself as I delete the thread. The thing that bothers me is, I don't sound as sure as I'd like to on that front anymore. I get that "all alone and you hear something in the house, and you start talking loudly -- too loudly -- to yourself" feeling, and I'm not used to it.
Not like I really think I'm the target of a warrantless wiretap, it's just that the freedom to express myself -- no matter how trivial the subject -- is something that I am taking a little less for granted these days, and I'll be listening closely to what the politicians who desire to lead this free country of ours are saying about our civil liberties -- freedom of speech among them -- this election season.