September 8, 2010

elephant is not me.

Warning: the below is written, first draft, after a long day of travel, so it may not make great sense. I’ll sharpen it up tomorrow, after reading it to a few friends.

Tonight, I’m sitting in a fluorescent-lit hallway in a fancyish old folks’ home, and am a tired boy. Nevertheless, since elephant as a forum seems to be getting bigger (we’ve topped 250K unique readers this month according to Google Analytics) and more feisty, embracing controversy and hurting the feelings of some of my friends, colleagues, and businesses, I want to share the below.

It’s on my mind. And I like to be open about things that trouble me. ~ ed.

#elej: a forum that welcomes respectful disagreement.

elephant is not Waylon, I could have titled this piece—but I didn’t want to highlight those two words together in the same sentence. There’s a reason my name isn’t over our masthead, or in our logo, though I’ve been advised by business minds far brighter than mine that highlighting yours truly is a good way to assure my personal success, financially.

Rather, my name is all over our Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, where it belongs. That talk show is, after all, based on my dumb jokes, my dumb questions, my personal point of view, my listening and learning to great minds and heroes and heroines.

But elephant is not me. Seem obvious? Well, it isn’t, apparently, even to my dear friends. Over the past month elephant has disappointed two elephriends who hardly even talk to me now, and more importantly aren’t sure they want to have much to do with elephant anymore. Their anger is a result of articles written by fellow elephant columnists, not me—but they hold me accountable.

And this bothers me, as it should. For one, I care about my friends, and while I understand their pain I want elephant as a forum to be independent of my personal viewpoint. We don’t have a party line. If I disagree with an article, I’ll say so in comments. And I’ve even welcomed articles by columnists questioning and criticizing myself.

elephant is an open forum. As founding editor, I have worked to create a welcoming, fun, vital forum that thrives on debate, and isn’t just a back-slapping MSNBC or Fox that merely agrees with itself, and its own readers.

Our very mission is to offer the good news beyond our core or choir and to the masses who may not have known they gave a care about “the mindful life.”

Today, on the plane to the east coast with my dad, on our way to a family gathering for my late grandfather, we got into a momentary, passionate argument about politics—whether President Obama was a failure, economically-speaking. My reaction? Write up your views, pa, we’ll post them on elephant! So what if my dad might be a bit more conservative than I? Great! He’s well-read and informed, and ele welcomes debate and discussion. What we need is to re-strengthen our ability to be agreeable with those we disagree. We’re all in this together. Still, it’s tough to be calm and sweet with those who are “wrong.” Likewise, it’s tough to be jerks to those who we’ve gotten to know.

And so I welcome articles by columnists who disagree with me. I won’t censor or block an article or writer unless they go way overboard. But that means I have to watch as those I like and admire get criticized, often justly, on a forum I’m ultimately responsible for. I’m a fan of Tara Stiles. I’m a fan of Tricycle. I’m a fan of KTD. I love Kathryn Budig. I heart John Friend. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t welcome intelligent articles questioning their marketing or what-have-you.

Why welcome controversy? Is this all about traffic?

No. Controversy may sell in the short-run, but ele better have some integrity in our articles. For if a publication, such as Huff Post, becomes focused on clicks, readers, numbers first…that isn’t good business. As a would-be journalistic enterprise, elephant and other mindful, independent media need to be about mission, first. That wins reader loyalty, love, and longterm growth.

So, from time to time, I may feel like an article is wrong or even unhealthy. I know Bill Schwartz, to his credit, tested my limits as an editor more than any other. And in the end it was good for me. And while I might edit any article to sharpen its pov (we do edit as much as possible, “we’re not a bulletin board” as I like to say), I won’t change an article’s point of view or pull it down unless it’s despicable or aggressive.

Why? Because new media, unlike old media, is a two-way street. You all—and I—can leave a comment for whoever the author is, and offer our differing point of view. Together, we can help enlighten areas of disagreement. We can serve as an uplifted forum for what would otherwise be mere gossip.

I’ve seen my own Buddhist community struggle with scandal, gossip, and how to be open about difficult issues. We even fired one of our best editors back in the day because he insisted on publishing news regarding a scandal. That’s sad.

How to deal, then, with controversy? I happen to know the answer. It’s in my blood—because I happen to be a live-out-loud human being myself. When you feel uncomfortable, insecure, or confused—or for that matter happy, sad, mad—be open. Be honest. And things will get better, almost right away. Works for me. We can have faith in our basically good human nature.

And if Tara, KB or any other elephriend feels attacked, well know this: our readers and comments will come to your rescue. If you’re the real deal, you will, like a rubber ducky, float back to the top.

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