Sunday, March 9, 2014

More space for diverse voices

From Robert Azzi's Middle East portfolio: Homeowners decorate the walls of their homes to celebrate the
successful completion of a family member's pilgrimage to Mecca.
I met Robert Azzi years ago because of a coincidence. We had both been Nieman Fellows, meaning we had been given the gift of a year to roam Harvard at will. The coincidence was that we were among the few former Niemans from New Hampshire.

Robert, who lives in Exeter, is a photojournalist who spent many years covering the Middle East. You can see some of his pictures and read of his experience here. After 9/11, when all Muslims suffered suspicion and ostracism, Robert wrote for the Monitor's opinion pages to share his perspectives as a Muslim and an Arab who deplored the attacks.

His writing has a strong moral core. He makes the point that the bellicosity of American foreign policy is often the result of a misreading (or non-reading) of history and a failure to comprehend the consequences of war on innocent people and on our own country's reputation.

I bring this background up for a purpose. One of the fine things the Concord Monitor has done during the last year is to expand its opinion section. Five times a week, Wednesday through Sunday, my longtime colleague Felice Belman edits a creative, interesting, interactive, reader-driven section called The Forum. (Felice also writes most of the daily editorials and edits the regular editorial page on Monday and Tuesday.)

Today's Forum pages include Robert Azzi's column on the U.S. response to the Russian grab for the Crimea. He embraces the restraint President Obama has shown. He cites many historical precedents where Republican and Democratic presidents have exercised restraint with good long-term effect. And he chides Republicans who carp from the sidelines about Obama's weakness rather than stand for solidarity in American foreign policy. You can read this fine piece here.

To give you a sense of the full plate Felice Belman served up today in The Forum, the section also includes:

-- Reporter Kathleen Ronayne's excellent analysis of how Republican senators who supported a Medicaid compromise last week managed to sidestep the howling of their party's Obamacare haters.

-- A wistful farewell to Garry Trudeau's daily Doonesbury strip by Katy Burns, a regular columnist for the Monitor from Bow, N.H.

-- Felice's editorial assessing the ability of Gov. Maggie Hassan to get things done through compromise and bipartisanship, a lost art in Washington.

-- My column on Concord's homeless population.

I should add that the section included 15 letters from readers, including one arguing against all-day kindergarten, one supporting each of the two contenders in Tuesday's Executive Council election and one contending that the state's heroin epidemic could have been avoided.

News is still the heart of a newspaper, but creating a forum for community voices and opinions is a vital function as well.

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