James Asher: Does journalism filter nuance?

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 28, 2012 

Sept. 26, 2012

Folks:

You knew this would happen. Asher does some reporting and he finds a majestic truth about journalism.

After experiencing the conventions and listening on Monday to Ahmadinejad face-to-face, I’ve concluded that sometimes we journalists filter events too much.

I don’t want anyone to get this wrong. This is not a criticism of the bureau’s reporting or writing.

But it is simple fact that the process of journalism leaves a lot of nuance on the cutting room floor. And I suspect a little bit of the truth goes with it as well.

And this, I think, is what many of our readers notice too. And it’s why journalism is not as valued as we all would want it to be.

As I’ve said before, this bureau has a mighty role to fill. We must be independent from the government and those in power. We need to be fair. And we need to focus on the issues of the people, not just of the inside-the-beltway types we cover.

Now I have another thing to add to our “must list.” We must work to capture more nuance in our work.

Consider the 47 percent comment by Romney. Did he really mean that he didn’t care about nearly half the country? That’s what a lot of what was written said. And it’s a lot of what the anti-Republican crowd told us was undeniably true.

And of course, he didn’t mean it the way at all.

And Monday, I found that Ahmadinejad’s comments about Israel, while controversial, were not simply provocative and the rankings of a crazy man. When he said Israel was irrelevant and of no concern to him, he was talking as an Iranian, proud of his nation’s 7,000 year history, and certain that his culture would endure long after Israel’s vanished. Is he wrong? I hope so. But was it understandable? I think it was. He did some other things too. He began his press conference Monday and his speech to the UN on Wednesday with a prayer. He quoted poetry.

Is this the mark of an evil man? Is he a manipulator?

I fear that what the West knows of Ahmadinejad is a caricature. And armed with such a vision, dialogue between us is impossible.

But back to journalism.

Part of our job is to capture what people really mean, not catch them in a gotcha misstatement or an inelegant remark.

Nuance matters.

To ensure that we don’t leave truth on the cutting room floor, please look for the larger meaning and include that context in your stories.

I also intend to have a McClatchy journalist supplement our coverage with occasional stories about nuance. Stay tuned for an announcement on that front.

And thank you for all you do for the bureau, for journalism and for our democracy.

Jim

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