Our hearts are grieving for the people of Lahore. It is truly awful what happened last Sunday - at a kids' park no less. But I have to admit: while I watched some of the coverage, I probably read less news about the attacks in Lahore than I did about the same kind of tragedy last week in Brussels. Aside from my daily dose of morning news, and feeling proud of the The Huffington Post for posting this graphic on Facebook, I haven't really read that much about what seems to be yet another example of organized, politicized violence.
Apparently I'm not alone.
Yesterday on Medium, Guardian editor Martin Belam posted an excellent account of a pressing problem: how news consumers just haven't been clicking on stories about the tragic bombings in Lahore - or events like it anywhere outside of the U.S. and Europe. Belam writes that social media often takes mainstream outlets to task for not providing equal coverage of violence in Asia, Africa, or the Middle East when compared to coverage of violence in the U.S. or Europe. But he also points out that it is really, really hard to get Guardian readers to click on stories about such tragedies when they occur outside the U.S. or Europe. As a matter of journalistic integrity and editorial priority, he writes that the Guardian did and will continue to feature coverage of these tragic events and their aftermaths whether in Brussels or Lahore. They will do their best to produce high-quality content in the face of limited resources. But if readers want to click on stories about logic puzzles (something else that popped into my Facebook feed) and the United States' ongoing electoral vitriol instead of stories about the Lahore attacks, there is only so much that content creators and editors at The Guardian can do.
Belam calls this a "seemingly intractable problem." I disagree.
The thing about intractable problems is that they are almost always rooted in people's preconceived notions about what is possible. But with a shift in our own frameworks, we can often begin to unwind such seemingly intractable problems. Here are three ways we could shift notions of what is possible in ways that might help generate more readership for articles about the attacks in Lahore, and other acts of organized, politicized violence outside the U.S. and Europe.
1. Don't just cover violence in Pakistan (or anywhere).
Too often, we see outlets covering violent conflict and not much else. "If it bleeds, it leads," as the old saying goes. But in addition to limiting public understanding of how conflicts could be solved through nonviolent means - something we'll continue to talk about in this blog - outlets that cover violence in a given place paint a picture where everything is 'terrible as usual' in that place. In the case of violence in Muslim-majority countries, such coverage can boslter Islamophobic stereotypes - something else we'll continue to talk about in this blog. For now, let me just say that while it is important to cover acts of organized, political violence like we saw in Lahore over the weekend, it is also important to cover art, science, politics, sports, and so forth in Pakistan and other Muslim-majority countries on the regular. Don't have the journalists on staff to do so? This leads to a second suggestion:
2. Diversify news rooms (and other places where content is created).
Belam writes that "I don't think the overwhelming whiteness of our newsroom helps us here." I'm sure it doesn't. As he points out, diverse news teams bring fresh perspectives, new contacts in more places, and are in a better position to translate complex issues for broad audiences. I would add that diverse teams are more likely to have richer and deeper understandings of how to frame these issues in ways that could attract wider readership - or at the very least, they will likely have new ideas on how to do so. Lack of diversity in the newsroom (or where ever outlets are creating content) is not an intractable problem, it's an HR one. Which leads to my third suggestion:
3. Just because you think someone is different doesn't mean they are. Belam writes that one of the reasons people click on stories about the Brussels attacks but not the Lahore attacks is because of cultural differences between readers and victims:
"For most of the UK's population, Europe's capitals are much closer culturally and logistically. You only have to see how sites like the Mirror squeezed a whole story out of Belgian international [soccer] captain Vincent Kompany making two tweets about the Brussels attack. He plays for Manchester City. We know him...If Zeshan Rehman put out a statement about Lahore today, you'd probably have to Google him."
I did have to Google Rehman, though I had to Google Kompany too (I don't know anything about soccer/football). And Belam's point is very well taken: I'm not surprised that Pakistan feels a million miles away compared to Belgium for many Guardian readers. And there is certainly nothing Belam or anyone can do about the relative expense of sending a reporting team from London to Brussels versus Lahore. But journalists play a role in what anthropologists call difference-making: if a Britain-based editor (or a white U.S. blogger-researcher) writes about, thinks about, or creates content that portrays another person or a country as faraway, unknown, or exotic, then that editor (or blogger or whomever) just created social distance between herself and the place or person she is writing about. That is, she just created differences between herself and her subject. That difference-making takes another step forward when readers that identify with the editor or the blogger - not the subject of the story - get in on the game and take the standpoint of the editor or blogger rather than the person she is writing about. Thinking about difference-making in this way is helpful because it's easy to see how things could be otherwise: if you have editors and bloggers intentionally taking up different standpoints, or coming from different standpoints in the first place (see suggestion #2), then you are less likely to create differences or social distance between groups of people. I suspect that once Guardian readers feel more affinity and less difference towards Lahore as they apparently do for Brussels, they'll be more inclined to read all coverage of Pakistan - whether about art, science, politics, sports, or terrible acts of organized, politicized violence.
This is all easier said than done. But this state of affairs, where readers just don't click on stories about the attacks in Lahore and other places outside the U.S. and Europe, is not "intractable." Humans made it, so humans can unmake it. What are your thoughts about the coverage of the bombings in Lahore? Tell us about it in the comments.