‘Headlines’ on difficult subjects often get carried away | J, o, h, n, , c, h, w, a, r, t, z

[Whinge for a minute? – T]

[Stubble and grumble for a second]

One of the most noted New York-based reporters seems to have left his news job for a deal of a different kind. James Glassman, US correspondent for the New York Times, had been promised by the newspaper he was reporting for that he would soon leave the paper to cover politics and Washington affairs in other capacities. The proposed new role kept him apart from what is widely considered his specialty: the foreign correspondent. Some Washington insiders question if Mr Glassman, who has written extensively about troubled Middle Eastern countries and the civil war in Afghanistan, is making the right move.

Take, for example, his report from the recent earthquake in Pakistan. He writes:

As a result of Tuesday’s quake, nearly 800 houses have collapsed in the north-western areas of the province of Punjab, leaving thousands without their homes. According to official figures, only four mud houses were still standing in the entire province, none of them inhabited by people.

What does this mean?

Mr Glassman draws two conclusions. First, that Pakistani society is failing in its efforts to educate its people, and second, that Pakistan’s government does not have much in the way of infrastructure. But what does that tell us about Pakistani society?

Some Afghans living in the country told me last week that what was most impressive about the country was that its people had endured hardship for years and been prepared to give up their homes in order to move to a safer place.

Mr Glassman seems to be unconvinced. He concludes, after surveying the post-earthquake ruins and warning that more people may become homeless, that “[w]e will lose any trace of a sense of shared humanity, the most important characteristic of our shared human experience.”

That’s a fair concern. And it should be acknowledged that traditional international journalism, including his favourite genre, the “headlines”, is no longer entirely dependent on foreign occupations to pick up the expense of re-creating conflict areas. It is increasingly used to gather data and gather information. Sometimes, the “headlines” serve as a sort of Pravda. But often they come with a sense of pessimism, of non-humankind and the futility of trying to maintain a semblance of order in a spiralling conflict zone.

But it does seem a stretch to suggest that the piece, which follows this year’s horrific Pakistani earthquake, offers sufficient context about what happened, how the displaced people might be aided and which groups in Pakistan were most directly responsible for the destruction. It is not a straightforward story. It is more of a point of view.

A better story:

A local journalist killed in a hail of bullets on his way to work.

Mr Glassman is a sharp journalist. He is well versed in reporting on the Middle East, Afghanistan and now Pakistan.

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