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Liz Nice: The ice bucket craze is better than nothing

PUBLISHED: 13:06 22 August 2014

Technicians dump a bucket of ice water on Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain to complete the Ice Bucket Challenge in support of the ALS Association which is raising funds in its battle to cure Lou Gehrig's disease, at the end of the first free practice at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Belgium, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014.

Technicians dump a bucket of ice water on Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain to complete the Ice Bucket Challenge in support of the ALS Association which is raising funds in its battle to cure Lou Gehrig's disease, at the end of the first free practice at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit, Belgium, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014.

Some weeks I wonder why I became a journalist. I know what I always used to tell my students – all that stuff about wanting to make a difference; a chance to contribute to a better world.

I sense raised eyebrows but it’s not entirely guff. A politician brought to account here. A lonely person rescued there. Writing with your heart can achieve things, sometimes, and contrary to our public image, being a journalist is not in fact the shabbiest thing you can do.

Yes, our profession has had its low points. Phone hacking. All the mean musing about celebrities that goes on and quite a bit of what I call the Hotel Rwanda factor too.

I always remember the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda because, rather shamefully, there was a part of me that enjoyed watching it because it made me feel like a better, more informed person just from having seen it. I hadn’t known much about the 1994 genocide before but now I’d watched the film I was a real citizen of the world. I cared!

I realised later though, because I do have moments of self awareness, that all I had really done was watch a film. Just as when I shine a light on an injustice in a story, all I’ve really done is write.

It strikes me that, although we all may get very exercised about particular issues, we are a nation of Hotel Rwanda watchers.There is even a new word for it: slacktivism – activism which requires minimum effort, little more than the pressing of keys.

We’ve seen slacktivism from many celebs this week as they take ‘the ice bucket challenge’, filming themselves while tipping a bucket of iced water over their heads to ‘raise awareness’ of motor neurone disease.

Chiefly, what they have raised awareness of is themselves being a good sport. But as a journalist, I can’t criticise – raising awareness is what I do. It’s all I do. And I like to think that it’s better than nothing, though it will never be as good as actually getting out of your chair.

This morning I read of a journalist who was more honest than me about why he chose our profession. “I wanted to write,” he said, “and when fiction didn’t work out for me, I thought I’d give real life a go.”

His name was James Foley. He wanted to make the world a better place so he went to countries other journalists dare not go.

He has just been beheaded in Syria, a country many of us forget about, a country where no journalist is safe.

I raise awareness of him here with my apologies. It’s not enough but it is all I know how to do.

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