It’s the smallest things that stick; a seemingly passing comment in a story that lodges. For the past couple of weeks, I have been working with a French journalist on a report about the trial of the men accused of aiding the terrorist attacks that rocked Paris on 13 November 2015. There’s a section about the testimonies given by survivors, including those who were caught up in the massacre at the Bataclan theater. How did those people get out alive? Often, the writer explains, it was all down to a decision as simple as stepping away to have a cigarette, to order a drink – then a bullet that would have ended one life instead of killing the person who, just a second before, was standing behind them. In that detail you glimpse how terrorism works – its unfathomable, unrelenting randomness.
It’s the same in the long read in our current issue about Ukraine, written by Kyiv resident Artem Chekh. He explains the geopolitics of the region perfectly well but it’s when he mentions that “most people have a bag of clothes, money, toiletries, packed and ready to go”, that you suddenly see how Russia has destabilised Kyiv – that you have a city of people primed to leave in a second. The unimaginable becomes imaginable; how could you wake up every day living with this numbing pressure, I found myself thinking.
The process of writing and editing is not linear. There are so many routes you can take through a story but somehow you have to make people care, to find time in their busy lives to focus on what you are saying – without sentimentalising or overplaying your hand to get their attention. And that goes equally for a story about the downfall of Kabul or a review of a new hotel.
I’ve been thinking about how we tell stories, what we choose to report on, a lot this week. The March issue, which we are currently working on, will not only carry our Paris trial report but also celebrate 15 years of Monocle. As part of this, we have been returning to people and places that featured in Issue 01 to ask, “What happened next?” It’s brought back to life the myriad decisions that went into making that launch magazine and, as you will get to see, that the topics and themes we were concerned with back then are just as pertinent today: how do we keep craft industries alive, how can be protected, what’s the ambition of China in Africa and how can cities stay true to their characters? It surprises even me how fresh it all still looks. Issue 01 stands as a bit of a manifesto for what Monocle is all about.
But there’s a second reason that I have been forced to reflect on what makes a Monocle story and what we can leave other people to report on. This is because we have taken on a team of new editors in recent months and I need to articulate our outlook on the world, something that has by now just become a reflex for me. And because it’s not about the following, say, a party-political line, it’s sometimes hard to explain the nuances, the point that we are aiming for. I don’t bump up against other writers and editors very often but while I want to host a variety of views on page and on air I also want to make sure we try, at the end, to come good on our key beliefs – without compromise. That we should introduce you to people with simple fixes for making better buildings and businesses; that we should seek to highlight opportunity even in difficult times; that our silence can say more than us joining the hecklers; that we must always look beyond the anglosphere and its more destructive cultural debates; that we should make people smile every now and then. It’s why, in story meetings, the debate is not just about which topics are important but how stories can best be told and why they matter. But here’s the good thing. In these conversations, in the stories that are coming across my desk, and as we reflect on Monocle’s journey to here, the role that we can play has never seemed more important, so full of potential.
“What’s next for Monocle?” people often ask. Well, after this past week revisiting our founding issue, it’s clear: sticking to our guns, telling great stories and not falling in with the hand-wringing competitors. It’s not linear, it’s fallible – but it’s not bad you know. And our real winning card? People like you who keep us on our feet every day.
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