For the past few days I’ve been considering how best to cover a controversy within a local Pagan community. This situation, I felt, did and does have repercussions for our movement as a whole, and has drawn opinions from national figures on what the best response would be. However, every time I’ve started to write the piece, I have hesitated. There is news here, but I also know that by holding up my magnifying glass to it I could inflame and re-litigate a situation that seems to have come to some sort of uneasy resolution. There is the very real possibility that my reporting, instead of adding more light, would just add more heat.
If I’m being honest, concerns of this nature have not stopped me in the past, though I have always held on to certain personal thresholds that must be met before I gave a local or internal matter a national/international platform. Generally that threshold was when the parties involved in a local story, or an internal matter, made it public of their own accord, or involved figures within the Pagan movement who are known as teachers or leaders beyond their local stomping grounds. Today, however, almost everything is in the public eye, almost every local group has a Facebook page or official blog that can be read by anyone who cares to pay attention. Our movement, which once so valued its secrecy, has become transparent to an amazing degree in the last ten years. This has caused a number of smaller controversies to erupt on a larger scale, but it has also gained us better communication, more accountability, and more ecumenicism within the Pagan world.
While The Wild Hunt is today just one Pagan blog among thousands, it is still one of the very few that focuses almost exclusively on reporting community-driven news, and as such has been given a weight, and a responsibility, that makes me question the value and role of every post I write. I constantly ask myself what the effects of my media megaphone will have on a situation, and tried to error on the side of caution, but I know that not everyone has been happy with the way I’ve written or reported on every situation. An internal balance is struck on a regular basis between the needs of our movement, the needs of local communities, and what I believe the role of a movement journalist is.
Movement journalism, or advocacy journalism, is not unbiased. I’ve said time and time again that this outlet has a “pro-Pagan” slant and is unembarrassed about that fact. I know that this choice often eliminates me from the milieu of ”mainstream” journalism, but I also feel that mainstream journalism has its own shortcomings, especially when it comes to reporting on minority religions. A movement journalist gives its community what he or she feels we need to collectively know, and does so from an internal position, one that helps shape narratives that may later be picked up by mainstream reporters. We often act as filters, giving outsiders a curated glimpse into the achievements, and yes, controversies, of our communities. We don’t ignore bad news, or embarrassing situations, as longtime readers of this blog will attest, but we are mindful of how we present that information.
I have seen members of our community act differently when they knew The Wild Hunt was paying attention, giving more attention to producing official statements and press releases, preparing themselves for closer scrutiny. Often I try to reach out to, and work with, leaders and activists to prepare them for the sudden influx of attention. Indeed, I am regularly contacted by small groups who want me to profile their situation, hoping that I will drive support towards their initiatives or problems. Sadly, some have also seen my blog as a way to score points against, or promote gossip about, one figure or another. My relative centrality in the world of Pagan news means that many have tried to manipulate my coverage for their own ends. These, I believe, are all normal challenges to any movement journalist. Since we are a part of the thing we report on, we will always be pushed and pulled by those who interpret our responsibilities differently.
Over the years I have refused to write about a situation, even though I knew it would garner “hits” and page-views for my blog. Situations where I felt that drawing more attention would not improve our community in any way, or call some sector of our movement into account. I feel that all Pagan journalists need to remain ever mindful of the power they possess, and how each story they write about will reverberate beyond the story. We will each have to decide what our ethical pole-star is, as there is no Pagan journalism “pope” (thank goodness), but I hope each of us will wrestle with what is the most responsible way forward in every story we write. As someone who is trying to grow journalism within modern Paganism, I hope that we each see this role as a sacred trust that is used to strengthen and hold each other accountable, and that when we falter we are willing to own that failure and move forward in integrity.
As for the story I’m currently not writing about, I still don’t know if I’ll write about it, or how I’ll write about it if I choose to. I think it needs more time out of my spotlight so I can see how best to use my voice in a way that is helpful to all involved. I hope that all of us remain mindful of our power, and know that sometimes what we don’t write about can sometimes be as important as what we do write about. I hope all of us make decisions every day that are mindful of how we can grow and improve.
My blessings to all of you.