When I’m telling stories, I look for the telling example that can represent something deeper – some small but memorable tip to stand in for the rest of the iceberg.
There are ways in which Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, the two photojournalists killed this week in Libya, are terrible examples, bad choices as the tip for the journalism iceberg. The staggering pictures of a firefight Hondros took inside a Misurata apartment building the day he died are vastly different from the week I spent scouring tables of groundwater test data. Mostly
what we do is far more pedestrian than the work of Hetherington and Hondros. There is no question that I lack the courage to chase an armed rebel up a stairway in the midst of a firefight to get the picture. But at its root, we’re doing the same thing – trying to make sense of chaotic but important parts of the world, and to come up with the best way to explain it.
Perhaps a quieter example from the recent world of journalism might illustrate why I feel so passionately proud of the work of my tribe.
It’s the work of journalists at Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun, a daily newspaper in Ishinomaki in northern Japan. From the Newseum:
For six consecutive days after the twin disasters (the earthquake and tsunami), reporters used flashlights and marker pens to write their stories on poster-size paper and posted the “newspapers” at the entrances of relief centers around the city. Six staff members collected stories, while three spent an hour and a half each day writing the newspapers by hand.
There were no press releases where Hetherington and Hondros and the staff of Ishinomaki Hibi Shimbun were working, just stories that needed to be told. It’s a high bar, a standard we don’t always live up to, but it represents the best of us, and it’s a calling of which I am deeply proud.
At the risk of sounding maudlin, these are my people.
> The staggering pictures of a firefight Hondros took inside a Misurata apartment building the day he died
I had a look at those. Either they were faked (which I presume isn’t true) or he is (was) silly / overconfident / charged with some false sense of invulnerability. Getting close to the action is all very well but, errm, is going to be fatal if you’re this close and do it often.
They aren’t even useful. What has been copiously lacking in the reporting on Misrata has been an overall sense of who controls what bits of the city and where the balance lies. In other words, rather basic boring (though dangerous) background work. Not flashy firefights.
I think you miss the point of those pictures on a couple of levels. They were edited (selected) to tell us something about Hondros, which your comments suggest they did. They were not selected to tell you story about Misrata.
The story of Misrata needs both what you seek (the basic and actually not as boring, it seems to me) which would be done by the word people, paired with the imagery, which carry the story’s emotional weight.
Hmm. I see your point, though I don’t agree with it.
> actually not as boring, it seems to me
Me neither, but since I don’t see it reported I guess it must be boring to the newsgathering folk, or perhaps too difficult to do.