Mired in imagery of horror, victimhood
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, in one of this week’s five most viewed Times articles (“Lost in Space”), quoted former Times Editor James Gleick’s observations about news reporting of the Boston bombing. It provoked nearly 500 reader comments, some more penetrating than the column itself.
Gleick’s bald assertion that “continuous real-time broadcast news is a failed experiment” caused one Times reader to raise his ante with this comment:
“Our air time is becoming a series of annual remembrances of some kind of horror, bells tolling, uniforms marching, bands playing, eyes weeping … . Our national conversation is mired in imagery of horror, mass public slaughter and collective victimhood.”
Gleick, however, was more occupied with a growing paradigm of news reporting that incorporates crowd-sourcing and practices “new forms of banality.”
As quoted by Dowd: “The Internet is messy, pointillist, noisy, often wrong. But if you had a visceral need for instantaneity, TV couldn’t compete. Reporters doing TV news in real-time are an oxymoron: You can’t gather news and present it at the same time. Part of newsgathering is the gathering part … . The battle lines are being drawn between the crowds and the experts. The crowds are fast and can be smart, but sometimes they’re horribly wrong.”
Gleick’s conclusion was not encouraging: “We have all these new channels and tools to understand the world as it happens, but there’s no reliable algorithm for sorting through the morass … . Now we have to invent a new personal methodology every day. And if we’re waiting for things to settle down and become simple, that’s never going to happen.”
Another Times reader, however, offered a ray of hope:
“You just have to learn to control the flow and shut off the din when your mind starts going blank with all the overstimulation,” she wrote. “Only watch CNN when you need some comic relief or want to place bets on how many times Wolf Blitzer will utter ‘al-Qaida’ within any given 10-minute period … . Read newspapers, books and go outside. A lot.”
Real-time reporting by citizen journalists can compare favorably to the prattle often coming from today’s on-air news celebrities, but its greatest role plays out during an unfolding crisis. The fear should be that, in order to feed a growing public addiction, we will convert more and more news to “crisis reporting.”
Our only protection is that, eventually, the batteries will run out.
Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@news register.com or 503-687-1223.