Comments on: Witness – Writing on the walls in the Holy Land http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2010/06/21/witness-writing-on-the-walls-in-the-holy-land/ Religion, faith and ethics Sat, 23 Apr 2016 23:25:07 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.5 By: Jalaluddin http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2010/06/21/witness-writing-on-the-walls-in-the-holy-land/comment-page-1/#comment-24718 Thu, 24 Jun 2010 23:41:09 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/?p=13981#comment-24718 “Jalaluddin, this sounds to me like one of those book reviews where the critic basically writes, “This isn’t the book I wanted to read!”” “one article whose purpose has been misunderstood.”

I agree that much hinges on perceived intentions and purposes. I also agree that impressionistic reporting is a valid and important component of journalism, complementing both detailed day-to-day headlines and wider analysis. I’d like to see reporters do this more often.

“they may have some difficulty following all the details”
“Most of our readers have specific knowledge about a few issues in the news and general or little knowledge of the rest. They deserve our attention too”

Again, I fully agree! I’m not complaining about the lack of detail in this article, but rather its strange detachment from any wider context. What makes Hass, Levy, and Mondoweiss worth reading is not their detail, but (a) an ever-present awareness of the key issues that loom behind the conflict and (b) objectivity rooted in some sort of principled, rather than semantic, framework. As discussed earlier, it’s Reuters which focuses (perhaps aptly) on the trees rather than the forest; the “Witness” concept would seem to be a way to go a little beyond the trees, as you suggest.

“gives those readers some insight into what’s behind them, it has achieved its purpose.” … “and they will come away from a piece like this with some new understanding.”

Here’s where I disagree. I don’t think that such readers will come away with some new understanding from this piece. They are just as likely (or more likely) to come away with the old and false understanding that the Holy Land is just a hopeless place where people have always hated one another along sectarian lines and continue to do so.

There simply isn’t enough phenomenological depth here for the piece to stand alone on impressionistic grounds, though I’ll bet that’s more to space contraints than to journalistic ability. (Looking back briefly into MacDonald’s archive of postings, I don’t see reason to doubt MacDonald’s ability or sincerity. Better than average, in my quick and humble opinion.) Some reflections on the hierarchy or causal elements of these divides could have easily compensated, and are necessary for a readership which is surprisingly unclear (judging by recent studies) on the most basic facts of the occupation upon which everything here hinges. Someone who “has been Reuters Bureau Chief in Israel and the Palestinian territories for the past three years” surely must have some reflections on this, and those thoughts would give the article depth and purpose and value, but from the article as is, you couldn’t tell whether he arrived there three weeks ago or three years ago.


Incidentally, I’m not someone deeply invested in the Middle East conflict; I’m probably not far off demographically from your typical readership. I turn to Mondoweiss et. al instead of the BBC or the NYT only because I feel that’s where I can get a quick and meaningful sense of what’s happening in that part of the world free of the semantic chicanery which plagues those two otherwise venerable institutions. (I do have more respect for Reuters, though of course its footprint is more diffuse.) Fisk alludes to this phenomenon near the end of a recent (and powerfully written) column: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/com mentators/fisk/fighting-talk-the-new-pro paganda-2006001.html

:-)

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By: Tom Heneghan http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2010/06/21/witness-writing-on-the-walls-in-the-holy-land/comment-page-1/#comment-24712 Thu, 24 Jun 2010 08:03:30 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/?p=13981#comment-24712 Jalaluddin, this sounds to me like one of those book reviews where the critic basically writes, “This isn’t the book I wanted to read!”

Alastair Macdonald wrote an impressionistic piece at the end of his assignment, something atmospheric to try to give a feel of the place to the widest possible audience. That audience includes large numbers of people for whom the Israeli-Palestinian story is an endless flow of headlines and soundbites. They’ve never been there, they have no personal stake in the issue and they may have some difficulty following all the details that Mondoweiss or Hass and Levy provide. In fact, they may have some difficulty following all the details that we provide in our daily coverage. One could say they should take the time to learn more about the issue so they can understand it, but one could also say the same about quantum physics or the intricacies of Wall Street finance.

Most of our readers have specific knowledge about a few issues in the news and general or little knowledge of the rest. They deserve our attention too, and they will come away from a piece like this with some new understanding. That more informed readers already know this is a secondary issue. Part of our job is to help less informed readers move closer to the more informed camp. If a story gets away from the latest headlines and gives those readers some insight into what’s behind them, it has achieved its purpose.

Alastair is anything but “a befuddled or overwhelmed journalist fresh off the plane and afraid of offending any ’side’ in the ‘big complicated mess’.” Instead, he is the “seasoned observer” you claim to miss. What you miss is a feel for the purpose and target of an article like this, which is specifically labeled a “witness” piece to distinguish it from the “analysis” article you wanted to read. There’s plenty of that around, in whatever flavour one wants. Sometimes it’s helpful just to stand back, like a camera, and give readers a feel for what these issues look like on the ground.

It’s disingenuous to declare a journalist “befuddled or overwhelmed” and then say this was based on one article whose purpose has been misunderstood.

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By: Jalaluddin http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2010/06/21/witness-writing-on-the-walls-in-the-holy-land/comment-page-1/#comment-24709 Wed, 23 Jun 2010 21:42:43 +0000 http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/?p=13981#comment-24709 I hate to sound negative here, but does this story do anything to illuminate readers (new or old to the issue)? Do they come away from this story with any new knowledge or understanding?

I see the reflections of a befuddled or overwhelmed journalist fresh off the plane and afraid of offending any ‘side’ in the ‘big complicated mess’, not the insights of a seasoned observer who has spent years in the region and developed a sense of the actors and power structures.

Of course, the politics of reporting on this topic are a story in themselves, which may explain the fuzziness. I wish though that I didn’t have to turn to sources like Mondoweiss or Israeli media itself (Hass and Levy) to obtain a realistic idea of the principles and principals at play.

(My comments apply to this story only; I haven’t looked at Reuters’ general coverage of this conflict in enough detail to form an opinion about it.)

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