Friday, August 13, 2004

The new divide

During the terror threats a week or two ago against the Citicorp building and the New York Stock Exchange, a close acquaintance of mine said, "For all I care, they can blow those buildings up, and good riddance" (not those words, but that idea). Now he's an opinionated fellow who frequently uses hyperbole for emphasis and humor (he also said he's a lifelong Democrat and would vote for the Devil over a Republican, so you get the idea). But where I might formerly have laughed at his hyperbole, this time I couldn't. It wasn't funny any more, because he might have used the same joke about the World Trade Center on Sept. 10.

I can't say what's in his head, but the conversation illustrates a division that Prof. Jay Rosen refers to in a recent blog post: Sept. 10th people vs. Sept. 12th people. Prof. Rosen observes that 9/11 was a watershed event for him and for many others (me, too), and asks if the news media (the topic of his blog) have redefined themselves in its wake. The answer is apparently mostly no.

He quotes a snippet of an interview between then-New York Times editor Howell Raines and an NPR reporter:
TERENCE SMITH: Is your mission or role or obligation at this stage on this story, and the related aspects of it, different in the wake of 9/11? We are dealing with an amorphous thing called "a war on terrorism." Is it different?

HOWELL RAINES: No. I think not in the...if we're talking fundamentals here. We have an intellectual contract with our readers, which is we'll tell you what we know when we know it, within a framework of intellectual testing for soundness and information and within obviously the boundaries of law, and in certain cases, whether national security interests are involved.

In describing what's happening, Prof. Rosen answers a long-standing question of mine: How can it not make a difference?
There's a little trick there; a switch is thrown. What starts out as a big reckoning with a world-shattering event for editor Raines and his ideas about obligation, mission and purpose, turns into a coverage question, an excercise in news judgment on a big story-- September 11 and related events. That's the trick.

I'll let you read Prof. Rosen's reflections on the implications for journalists. They're valuable and not easy to summarize.

I guess the question will continue to be, for all of us, what difference does it make to me (for good or ill). And how do I want the new reality reflected in my daily life?

UPDATE: Along this line, I wonder what Sept. 10th people would make of Exhibit 13. (SOURCE: The Truth Laid Bear)

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