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Reporting vs. storytelling

Reader comment on item: [Beslan Atrocity:] They're Terrorists - Not Activists

Submitted by Rick Darby (United States), Sep 8, 2004 at 13:59

I can't help thinking that the basic concept of journalism, especially in reporting, has changed. Reporters were once people whose skill was considered to be determining facts -- the "who, what, when, where, why" syndrome -- and conveying those facts straightforwardly and clearly. That seems to have largely given way to the idea of a reporter as someone who can take facts and information and turn it into a "story" (in the sense of a tale, one with "characters," a "theme," and a conflict between the "good" side and the "bad" side).

In this world, the honored reporter is the one who is best at story telling. He or she is especially clever at using words creatively, to subtly convey the flavor or conclusion desired by the employing publication or broadcaster. It doesn't do, of course, to overtly take sides when writing the story; the art is in finding the mots justes to convey a value judgment without appearing to do so.

Hence, the choice of words used to describe people who wantonly inflict death on noncombatants displays the modern reporter's highly desirable (from the media's standpont) knack for setting the tone: insurgent, militant, extremist, et al. are words that tell you what to feel about those who perform those actions. True, "terrorist" is also an emotion-laden word, but like the euphemisms you've quoted, it has a traditional and generally agreed-on meaning. It shouldn't be used in a manipulative way where it doesn't apply, but not to use it where it does fit and to "creatively" substitute a different term with different connotations is a sad commentary on today's journalistic standards.

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