Late January, we inaugurate
Barack Obama as our new president. My eyes fall as I write this
on a photograph my Cousin Max emailed
me the day before the election. As a journalist, I find this photo
remarkable. And, in a happy way, it reminds me to be proud of the
work we journalists do and why I wanted to be a member of the press
in the first place. Looking at it --- a man, Max, standing with
a campaign worker in front of a Vote Obama sign --- you may not,
at first, see why. But clearly there is a connection.
Let me explain.
When I was a girl, pondering what I felt would be worthwhile work
to choose, becoming a journalist was high on my list of “an
important thing for a person to do in the world.” Not just
what it did for you --- the travel, the chance to meet people,
the front row seat. But also what you would do for others. To
enlighten people. To bring them information. To give them
stories that plugged them into the larger world. Let's call
it being part of the free flow of information. I wanted the work
I did to matter, to be of service. Noble, even. To help people. And,
to me, that sounded like a job that counted for something.
for Max, when I was a girl, I never knew that branch of
the family. That would have been impossible. I had
only heard of them. In whispers. Because, you see, my
Cousin Max is actually my Cousin Maxim. The St. Petersburg
he lives in is not the one in Florida. It’s the one in
Russia. The one which, when he was born, was Leningrad. In
the country that at the time was the Soviet Union. As
a girl all I knew of that side of the family, or my grandfather’s
sister’s existence, was letters that came not just from
Russia, but worse, from Siberia. Letters that arrived with
big holes in them, sections scissored out, courtesy of the
Communist authorities. No free flow of information there. When
my grandfather died, the letters stopped coming and we lost
Even so, I used to dream someday I would find them. When
I grew up and became a journalist I would fantasize
I might one
day breach the Iron Curtain if I worked for a network that
would send me to Russia reporting on a story, While there
I would look them up, arriving in Siberia with a
mike and a camera
crew and we would all be very emotional.
Cousin Max with an American campaign worker abroad.
By the time I actually
found them a decade ago, the Iron Curtain had fallen. Anyone
could jump on a plane and go to Russia, and once I tracked them
down, so I did. In fact, I was doing a story --- which
was about finding them. And, yes, we were very emotional.
But here’s my point.
Within an hour of checking into my hotel, with Maxim at my side,
and, thankfully, with him speaking perfect English, I mentioned
something that was happening back home in the USA. Dang nab it
if I can remember what now. But, in any case, it was Max’s
answer that mattered.
I figured I would have to explain it. But, no. Whatever it was,
Max knew all about it.
How did you know that?” I asked. Very surprised.
Oh,” he answered. “ We watched it on CNN. “
Since then we have visited, emailed, phoned, kept in regular touch.
And all the time whatever I know, I know Maxim knows, too. The
competition between Hillary and Barack. The latest Woody Allen
or Steven Spielberg movie. My opinion of Joe Cocker. All
the twists and turns of the presidential campaign. The heading
on the email with the photo Max sent was “Russia for Obama
too!” He’s plugged into the world. He knows how
and, even more, wants to be a part of it. And that’s because,
somewhere in the world where information freely flows, some journalist
is doing his or her job, covering politics, pop culture, the latest
poll standings in the race for the White House, or what Paul McCartney’s
up to. And in his living room in Russia, Max is watching.
Here, where a free press is old news, there is much we hear of
the hype that often comes with coverage. Of all that’s silly
and dumb and over-baked. So it may be easy to lose sight
of the fact --- until we are reminded by someone whose grandmother’s
letters used to come with holes scissored out --- that the free
flow of information is a lifeline. Valuable. That it makes a difference.
Late January, we inaugurate Barack Obama as President of the United
Many journalists that day, and in the days to come, will be doing
And Maxim will be sitting in his living room in Russia. Watching
it on CNN.
Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist turned independent
documentary filmmaker. Former 1010 WINS New York anchor/reporter
Lifetime Magazine,” she is the author of “Rachel and the Upside Down
Heart,” and co-producer of the films “My Grandfather’s House” and “Luboml:
My Heart Remembers.” She can be reached at www.douglas-steinman.com.