Nov 12, 2007

The new journalism

Apparently readers are thirsting for stories about how the lives of journalists are changed by covering important events.

Or at least the Los Angeles Times thinks so. From today's paper:
  • "I raised my camera and snapped a few shots.With the click of a shutter, Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller, a country boy from Kentucky, became an emblem of the war in Iraq. The resulting image would change two lives -- his and mine."

You can read the story here.

On the whole, I think most first person journalism should be avoided. It is usually self-indulgent and misguided, and it undermines the whole enterprise by inviting conclusion and opinion into a medium that should be dominated by fact and observation.

More than that, once a reporter shifts his focus from looking out at something to looking inward, he becomes invested in it. The instinct that drives him to shine a light on events regardless of what might be revealed is suppressed by a new desire to protect his own ego and promote his own version of things.

In other cases, I have seen the paper treat objectivity like false modesty, something that must be boldly brushed aside to reveal the true myth-making potential of journalism:

  • "Mohammed Ashtari became an emblem of the decision by thousands of San Diego County residents to ignore evacuation orders when he was featured in a Times article Tuesday."

Huzzah! Proof of relevance!

One can debate the imperfection of objective journalism, but let's not go overboard here and start buying our own press. Let's also avoid the related temptation to personalize the tragedies we cover, as the Times does here and here.

A newspaper should be an instrument through which a reader can see a broader world than his own; a world shown as it is, not as it wants to be seen. This kind of journalism highlights an insular world, bounded by the tastes and impressions of a few people, obscured by personal experience and limited by opinion.

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