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I am about to pitch a worthy cause, but I don't want to do so without exploring what that means for me as a journalist.
I haven't until now gotten involved in raising money for philanthropies, mostly because I have been in the news business for more than 30 years and I have always believed that the best thing I can do for society is do that one thing well. And to do it well I need to be detached.
I haven't made political contributions. I don't even sign petitions. Once you associate yourself with a point of view in a traceable way, however benign that point of view might seem and however self-evident is your right to do so, you make it harder to move credibly in multiple circles of influence and opinion, and journalists need to move in multiple circles with a minimum of baggage if they are to assemble a semblance of the truth.
That notion is laughed at by many non-journalists and, increasingly, by journalists, too. In the Internet era, the vogue thing to do is let it all hang out, to wear your biases on your sleeve. It's a valid state of being but one fraught with its own limitations, starting with a lack of credibility among those who don't share those biases. That leads to diminished access and influence, and worthy journalism is influential.
I don't want to write a book about all the practical implications, so I'll just say this: There are a big differences between bias, conflict of interest, and point of view, and every journalist has to sort them out for herself and decide what works for her.
Now I am unemployed, and a worthy cause is before me and it's hard for me to justify abstaining. I have personal experience with mental-health issues, and at almost every level I think society is doing a lousy job of dealing with them. So I am raising money for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
My wife, Anne Koch (a former journalist herself), has been a NAMI volunteer for many years, helping lead support groups for people whose family members are struggling with mental illness. One of these groups meets every Saturday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Annie has helped many people confronting a loved one's hospitalization related to mental illness, and her accounts of the problems they face are sobering. Annie also is an employee of the Greater Seattle chapter of NAMI, where she works with office volunteers who have suffered setbacks themselves and are making their way back into the world.
Here is NAMI's description of itself:
For three decades, NAMI has established itself as the most formidable grassroots mental health advocacy organization in the country. Dedication, steadfast commitment and unceasing belief in NAMI's mission by grassroots advocates have produced profound changes. NAMI's greatest strength is the dedication of our grassroots leaders and members. We are the families, friends and individuals that serve to strengthen communities across the country.
And this fundraiser:
The goals of the NAMIWalks program are to fight the stigma that surrounds mental illness, to build awareness of the fact that the mental health system in this country needs to be improved, and to raise money for NAMI so it can continue this mission.
I am sure NAMI is a flawed organization and at some point in the future I might even be critical of it, but for the moment I am embracing it and raising money. If this resonates with you, too, go to my fundraising page.
End of public service announcement.
This blog post is part of Zemanta's "Blogging For a Cause" campaign to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes that bloggers care about.