Saturday, April 19, 2014

Can journalists volunteer regularly for specific charities? An issue at Food and Friends

Will O’Bryan, a journalist with the DC area “gay paper” Metro Weekly, makes an important and disturbing observation on p. 19 of the April 17, 2014 issue, “A Thought for Food & Friends”, link here

O’Bryan went to an event at the important Washington DC charity, founded during the AIDS epidemic, with his husband, but notes his position as a journalist with the newspaper would preclude his volunteering for the group himself. 
I wondered if that would be true of any blogger who covers news extensively, even independent bloggers.  That factors into the “conflict of interest” problem I have discussed before, when I was writing a book about the policy regarding gays in the military in the 1990s while working for a company that sold to members of the military.
I volunteered for Food and Friends in the 1990s, when the group was near the Navy Yard (and the current Nationals Park) in the money counting area, once a month. A few times I delivered.  I tried doing delivery the day after Christmas in 2011.  It felt like census work. I volunteered for the Red Cross on the phone bank for a while in the fall of 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, but found there was little we could really do.
Over time, I’ve tended to find that volunteer work tends not to work out particularly well unless you have a regular commitment to a group and have internalized its aims.   But I keep hearing about calls for “Meals on Wheels”, transportation of patients (which I did one time for another substitute teacher), and even at Hospice.  What’s asked for is something that costs something –- time, purpose, and personal attention, sometimes in surprising situations where one would have thought only privacy matters.
Is I noted in a review yesterday of a review of a movie biography of Gore Vidal, writers (and journalists) keep their distance from most people so they can “tell the truth”.  But that need for distance and objectivity can keep journalists from “giving back”, something that sounds morally compelling, and matters very much for social stability and sustainability, as well as supporting the intrinsic value of human life.  It’s a lot of what the ethical teachings in the Gospels (and this is Easter weekend) is about.
Anderson Cooper usually hosts “CNN heroes”, and he definitely has paid his dues reporting abroad, but I wonder if he really could do this either. 
You wonder if the Chinese were on to something in the 1960’s with their idea of “taking turns”, even if that was Maoist.  Or perhaps the intentional communities are seeing the same problem.   

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