Archive for Journalism

Escape

Posted in Journalism with tags , , , , , , , , , on 12 February 2009 by Maggie

My days are long, and they are full of busy-ness and chaos.  I go to the gym, I then spend quiet time at home.  The past couple of days I haven’t turned on the television, I’ve not paid alot of attention to the computer after about 8 p.m. 

I need escape time, or – as Jim puts it – “down” time.

Some people just sit and stare at the television.  Some people listen to music.

Alot of people, like me, read.  Most read some form of fiction, because they are not only desperate to escape their day, they are desperate to escape the world.

I escape into various forms of nonfiction, and I learn.

This has been the case with Blind Spot:  When Journalists Don’t Get Religion.  I was going to do a review of it, but in reading it, I’ve tried to sort out how I could do a simple review about the size of that found in a newspaper.

For me, this is impossible.

Is it credible to write a white paper on a book full of others’ white papers?  The material covered has been superior to anything I have read anywhere on the subject of what happens when journalists are ignorant to the underlying factors of the stories they report.

I would love to teach this class and approach it from the direction in which this book was written.  I am acutely aware this is something that has never been taught at university level.  It should be, but it won’t be.  The impact of such an education would illuminate the world.

It’s not just that this book talks about the misinterpretation of the role religion plays in major global news stories about conflict, government and culture, but that it touches the heart of the real problem – that journalists, in their exhuberant gathering of pertinent details, don’t understand why the details are important or that the possibility exists that the details they gather are not where the real issue lies. 

This is why I want my sister in Los Angeles to write a book on the war right here in the United States.  Few understand it or are as close to it as she. 

This is why I want my brother to write a book on his experiences throughout the world with different cultures and personalities.

This is why I deeply regret my own ignorance and shyness when family members who were diplomats and amabassadors were recounting their own experiences throughout the world.  I should have started writing about it then, when I was aware at the age of 8 that the world is not all we have learned in history books.

This is why man, in its ignorance and intolerance of other civilisations, continues to see the world through its bias.

This is why it is impossible to get people to understand.

And this is why, if I could, I would insist that a class based on the general premise of Blind Spot be taught not just to journalists, but to everyone.

I am not as frustrated as I am disillusioned with the inability to educate, to understand, to make the light bulb go off.

I am going to write this “white paper”.  It will turn into a book of its own.

Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion

Posted in Journalism with tags , , , , , , on 12 January 2009 by Maggie

Vincent Carroll reviewed a new book in the Wall Street Journal last month entitled Blind Spot.  What a fascinating book, and it made me think of just how blind we all are, in one respect or another.

The headline for Mr. Carroll’s review was “God Is A Problem, Sources Say”, and launches with a statement made in an article in the New York Times in November regarding the attacks on Mumbai.  The statement was excerpted in this way:  “It is not known if the Jewish center was strategically chosen or if it was an accidental hostage scene.”  The Times also speculated that it was an “unlikely target” ………for Islam extremists? 

Blind Spot discusses various conflicts throughout the world and the religious “blind spot” that seems to afflict most Western journalists.  Editor Paul Marshall, as quoted by Mr. Carroll, said journalists reluctant to accept the “fundamentalist motives” of jihadist motives concentrate on “terrorist statements that might fit into secular Western preconceptions about oppression, economics, freedom and progress.”

I read that statement, and I was reminded immediately of the Kosovo Liberation Army’s attempt to destroy non-Muslim communities in the northern provinces when I was there in 1998, just as Israel today is using the issue with Hamas as a reason to destroy Palestine, Hamas is killing Israelis, the U.S. – as a sovereign nation that used to be religiously tolerant – pushes to use the fundamentalist Christian God as a reason to inflitrate other conflicts, and so on.

Even in Africa, religion plays a part in conflict.  Take, for instance, the Lord’s Resistance Army who hacked and killed hundreds in a church and the surrounding area in DR Congo not more than a couple of weeks ago.  Not only was this not a top story in the U.S., the Lord’s Resistance Army – terrorists by all measures – was downgraded to the simple acronyn LRA, and reported benignly as yet another hostile terrorist group.  Take a look at all the predominant ruling parties in Africa and their adversaries.  You will see that every single one of them is divisive not just ethnically, but religiously within that ethnicism.

Journalists ignore the religion factor, but the religion factor is everpresent – in conflict, in economics, in progress, in oppression.  No one religious faction is more evil than another, either.  They are all contributing factors to conflict, and yet journalists either bury their heads in the sand or are utterly ignorant of the factor religion plays in everything…or they wouldn’t plant a story in a news source as reputable as the New York Times that stupidly thinks that a Jewish center in Mumbai was not a calculated target for Islamist extremists.

Bias is everywhere in Western media – predominantly U.S. media – and most importantly bias against an understanding of fact-based reporting.

Terry Mattingly, one of the contributors to Blind Spot, has this recommendation for quality reporting:  “Editors do not need to try to hire more reporters who are religious believers,” but reporters “who take religion seriously, reporters who know, or are willing to learn to hear the music.”

At a bookstore near you:  Blind Spot:  When Journalists Don’t Get Religion; Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, Roberta Green Ahmanson, ed.  Oxford, 220 pages, $19.95.