Rethinking the News

by andrewcagle

Whether we read the physical newspaper, a blog, an article from the cacophony of news resources online, or watch a story on television, each day we absorb, the news. Besides the latest developments on the Syrian uprising, Euro crisis, or Snooki’s pregnancy, let’s zoom out and take a look at what we are really digesting. Yes, even Snooki’s pregnancy is part of our daily story as a society. However, one can argue the merits of higher and lower forms of journalistic literature.

Since the world has been spinning, events occur, things come and they come to pass. Every day, a new page turns in what could be called the grand narrative of time. Universal vernacular would call this, history. News is the telling of the daily story of life as it happens or in some cases how we perceive it to happen. Each thread is unwoven from the tapestry and strung out so we can see it more clearly. Some threads go by the name of politics, arts, national, local, and world. Beyond the story and the headline, there are people. News is the story of our lives. Some of us are involved more intimately with the story told at times than others. Sometimes we are part of the fabric of one thread, and sometimes we part of multiple threads, and we read, watch and listen to what is happening in the story of the tapestry as a whole.

One of the greatest journalists of our time, Anthony Shadid, had a unique gift. With poignant elegance, he took mere headlines and transformed them into stories saturated with humanity. His poetic prose and ability to capture the oft forgotten nuances of a story in the midst of conflict changed the way people viewed the foreign correspondent. The news wasn’t about issues, it was about lives, and how those lives were affected by the way the world spun that particular day. His reporting brought us Pulitzer-Prize-winning stories like this from Iraq: “In a Moment, Lives Get Blown Apart”.

Robert Cohen, writing about Shadid in the New York Times following his death, described him working from the Times’ Cairo bureau last Spring. “Yes, remarkable — as was Shadid in his poise and modesty — leaning into his laptop at the epicenter of a bureau that purred without tension because of his passion to tell, but not to own in any confining sense, a story he had prefigured countless times.”

The professionals who work in the business of sending news programming to your television or a paper on your doorstep must see the job as more than that. They are discovering and displaying the truth. They are documenting our narrative one day at a time, and should be bringing everything from the fine details to the big picture of the story more clearly into focus. This picture is a collage. To blur one part of the picture is to create a blemish, a flaw in the story. A typo, omission, or euphemism on the day’s page leads us not towards greater understanding and progress, but into confusion, disunion, and stagnation.

In the words of singer/songwriter Chan Marshall, can journalism be “nude as the news”? Truth holds the power to behold either beauty or shame. Both possess the potential to move us towards better things.

Shadid (left) in Cairo.