Warning: The Following is Not Journalism

Gay Talese, in his seminal journalistic novel The Kingdom and the Power, described journalists as “restless voyeurs who see the warts upon the world, the countless imperfections in people and in places.”

That’s it. No college degree or experience. No pledges to objectivity or serving the Public Trust. All that’s required to be a journalist, according to Talese, is a curiosity and passion to tell stories about the world – their world or that of others.

The result of such journalistic efforts may not be what you would call “journalism” in today’s context. Yet it is still reporting in its simplest and purest form – and I believe it has value, both to “professional” journalists and non-journalists alike.

Then there is the real world.

We like our journalism when it’s branded. We prefer that the news package itself for us, do our thinking for us, make decisions for us. We have no problem following Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, but we have a problem following Global Voices because the latter requires us to be the filter. We believe news is easier to swallow when it’s served cold.

Find the “Real” News
Try this as an experiment: Read the following “news reports” from blogs about the Middle East conflict and see if you can guess which are from professional journalists and which are from amateurs:

  • “The scary thing about rocket strikes is that even with the siren sounding you can’t see them coming. No streak of fire across the sky. Not a lot of sound. That is, not until the thump when it hits. This time, the thump was very close, and soon, a plume of thick white smoke started to rise…then the siren sounded again. The crowd went from pushing and shoving in the street to huddling together under any cover we could find.”
  • “We had 10 sirens today, and finally a new instruction came to stay at least 15 minutes down there after a siren. This might be obscure so I’ll explain. What happened in the past few days, and I’ve talked about this already, is this: Siren goes off, people go down into the bunker, all clear to come back up after a few minutes, then they rapidly fire again. You almost never hear a lone siren by itself, always in pairs or more with short pauses in between. This is designed to hit people when they come out of the bunker. So now we wait for 15 minutes and sure enough, while in the bunker we hear yet another siren again. But since everybody are down there nobody gets hurt the second time around."
  • “No matter that Hezbollah hides behind the skirts of women and the cribs of babies, and regardless of your love of Israel, these are pictures that are painful for any parent to see. The dead children of the Lebanese village of Qana, at least 34 of them, some handicapped, all unable to leave the area in the face of warnings, were wiped out in the early morning hours of Sunday by an Israeli air strike.”
  • “The current conflict rests atop a sea of unresolved issues that pre-date even the Lebanese civil war. Racism, sectarian animosity, feelings of oppression and neglect run deep in Lebanon. Christian support for Shia refugees is smoothing out some of these differences…if civil war is avoided and if Hezbollah is to be disarmed, it will most likely come about through the person to person bonds being made right now between Christians and Shia.”

Each of these posts sound about as credible as the next, but our perceptions change when we learn that the first post is from Thomas Evans, a CNN producer for Anderson Cooper 360; the second from the “Live from an Israeli Bunker” blog; the third from Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera; and the last from a blog called the “Lebanese Political Journal.” Suddenly Geraldo’s hyperbole seems reasonable and the Israeli Bunker blogger is just an amateur hack with no skills and a chip on his shoulder (never mind that the numbers Geraldo quoted as fact were later recanted by the Lebanese Prime Minster as an exaggeration.)

Perception may be reality, but that also means what is real to one person is a lie to another. Two people can read the same New York Times article but come to completely different conclusions. This doesn’t mean the journalist who wrote the article is biased or misinformed – it means the reader is.

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