Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Local anesthesia

One would have hoped the message was clear: If you can't add meaning to an international story, don't localize it. Especially don't let an out-of-field writer wander over and dump conventional wisdom all over it. Copyeds, when you see these, don't just slap a hed on and spellcheck. Make sure that localizations live up to their billing.

There is, of course, an example:

Crisis hits home in Carolinas
Many waiting for word from loved ones caught in midst of violence

Carolinians on either side of the Middle East conflict share common ground today.
Dive! Dive! Kum-ba-ya alert! While you're wondering whence the extrapolation from a Charlotte-Concord sample to "Carolinas" and "Carolinians," ponder for a second the relevance of the lede and how it's going to be supported.

As bombs fly back and forth between Israel and Lebanon, many worry about loved ones in harm's way. While they hold different views of how to resolve a conflict seemingly without end, they're putting aside politics and religion while awaiting calls and text messages from the region.
Of our five-person sample, none mention politics, one mentions religion, and none mention their "views of how to resolve a conflict seemingly without end." On the evidence, then, how does the writer infer that they're putting politics and religion aside? Or do you think maybe the writer wrote the story before talking to any of the people involved?

Those with ties to Israel share the same worries.
Let's briefly compare worry-sets presented above and below this linking graf. In one case, a teenager appears to have been more or less directly under the action and is preparing to leave overland for Syria -- which, per the Post, the State Department is advising Americans not to do because of the risk of attack. In the second, the letter home says "Jerusalem is far enough away from the Lebanese border for us to feel confident and safe." Again, does this transition follow from the reporting, or did the writer come up with a transition to support the "common ground" lede, regardless of what the reporting might say?

Many international crises do produce legitimate local stories, but not all localizations are equal. If the Local Angle doesn't meet minimal journalistic standards, hold it or kill it. There's always some real news ready to take its place.

Needless to say, this wasn't it:

Bush voices frustration with Mideast conflict
Recording of lunchtime chatter captures some undiplomatic language

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- President Bush used an expletive Monday to describe his frustration with violence in the Middle East.

Once again: What Bush thinks about the U.N. and its attitude is relevant. What, if anything, he has in mind for a Cabinet-level intervention is relevant. What international actors think about a peacekeeping mission is relevant. Whether Bush used an expletive, and whether newspapers use dashes or asterisks or the naughty letters themselves to represent it, is sublimely off topic.

Little words can be a big deal in the Middle East. Resolution 242 is a classic example. The G-8 wrangling, per this actual news story, provides current ones. But this obsession with the trivial only reinforces the impression that American journalism can't tell noise from substance. Please stop it.


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