What any competent journalist learns early on is that what interests him or her usually interests other people too. Curiosity about the world, other people, even himself or herself, is a must for someone determined to journal the world about them. Over the past 20 years, I’ve tried to scratch the itch of curiosity, covering events and issues outside my normal realm of experience: murder trials; gang violence; government corruption; what dying from anthrax looks like; how political elections are run and how laws are made.
But as fulfilling as that was, after awhile I felt as if I were dining on appetizers and missing the entre. Yes, I learned about the courthouse, the cop shop, city hall and the state capitol. But as soon as I became knowledgeable, I moved on due, in part, to my own curiosity or wanderlust. (Sometimes, I took a different job at the same newspaper. More often, however, I took a new job in another state.)
As a result, I failed to capture a realistic portrait of the complicated world in which we all live by not digging deeper into issues and talking to people whose day-to-day lives often intersected with those institutions. Too often stories in newspapers or on TV and radio stations lack the depth and context to offer up insight into life as we all live it. News consumers, then, can be forgiven for thinking city hall or the courthouse or the state capitol function in their own little universes, complete with their own languages or jargon. New Mexicans, however, don’t experience life this way. Their day-to-day lives intersect with these institutions, and as often as not, these exchanges can lead to a confusing, sometimes confounding, existence.
New Mexico In Depth represents an attempt to think beyond these artificial subject areas – city hall, state capitol, a school classroom, health care – and to add verisimilitude to journalistic reporting and writing. In other words, we want to make life recognizable to those who live it. Journalism done well allows both for a reporter to scratch the itch of curiosity while opening a window onto the world in which we all live for his or her readers, viewers or listeners.
Which brings me to my next point about journalism and New Mexico In Depth. Ultimately, it is about people. People populate the institutions journalists report on. People make the rules by which these institutions run. And those institutions often intersect with people’s complicated lives. I say complicated because many factors influence our daily lives – our own judgment, our families, the social and economic circumstances in which we live, the institutions, whether governmental or private-sector businesses, that circumscribe how we respond as citizens or consumers. They all have some effect on us.
Finally, another important aspect of NMID’s mission is to provide accountability.
I remember 15 or so years ago hearing a fellow student in a class describe ethics as the tension between the worlds of “ought” and “is.” In other words, the world as it should be versus the world as it really is, with all its imperfections, injustices and half-measures. I’ve discovered since then that such a description is too simplistic for such a complicated subject. But it’s a helpful image, especially when thinking about journalism, which, to my mind, often lingers in that netherworld. Many of us wish for certain things to happen – every child is loved and well fed, government agencies work as they’re supposed to, and power is not abused. But we live in a world where children starve, agencies don’t live up to their slogans and the abuse of power is an all-too-often reality. Our work, hopefully, will point out when this tension erupts between the two worlds.
This is an ambitious description of journalism, I know. I hesitate to put it into words because hitting such a target sets us up for criticism when we don’t. But I’ve learned ambition is important to doing important work. So, in advance, I’m asking for your forgiveness for aiming so high. We here at New Mexico In Depth will seek to honor your expectations for quality, in-depth journalism and work diligently to offer a nuanced portrait of New Mexico.