Saturday, July 09, 2005

When being a step behind isn't a bad thing

i'm not a morning person. my waking life begins after noon and peaks at 9pm. the morning of the London bombings, though, i was up in time to catch the developments in their immediate aftermath. the news seeped into my skin even before i showered. when i finally did step gingerly into our dilapidated shower/tub, and dressed myself for work, i knew my first real opportunity to be a journalist was only an hour away, yet my "future" in the craft is still louisiana swampland.

when i did walk into my role as a bookstore dept. manager, my mind was busy multi-tasking the day's priorities and contemplating how best to inform the staff of the attacks. the news was still new enough that i just regurgitated what i'd heard on CNN earlier in the morning.

as the day progressed, and the initial shock of the bombings settled back into complacent paranoia, i started thinking about the event itself and the coverage. to learn more, though, i knew i'd have to wait until i got home later that night - the newspapers on the wire-frame display knew nothing of the headlines plastering televisions sets and internet sites - or wait until the next morning.

after 9/11, the word "terrorism" took on a new meaning. simultaneously, it was an emotion and a trigger for patriotism and war. became a cliche. now, i see the word and its usage (moreso by authority figures) suspect. this being ingrained, i questioned the media and its fascination with excess. if the same event had taken place in a third-world country, would the coverage be the same?

i went home and turned on the television. nothing new was known, each of the cable news networks were headlining the story with a different computer-generated design and wording, and, immediately, i was reminded of september, 2001. the same national/global mourning seemed to be finding its way back into our society, but it wasn't American soil. would the news have revealed the same if it were a third-world country? i couldn't wait for the next morning's New York Times, Washington Post, and Dallas Morning News.

it was inevitable that this story was going to be the top of the front page. But, the same would have occurred if it were Columbia as opposed to London. but, more importantly, there would have been an emotional detachment. the story, most likely from the AP or the BBC, would have been strictly the facts of the attack; no talking heads trying to console a nation Not in grief. yes, the papers would have stories focussing on other varying angles - the terrorist threat on American soil, reactions from the American government and American-Arab communities, concerns about Our public transportation systems, and etc. - but they would be information pieces. the consoling and personal insights on the attack would be on the inside, written under the opinion headers.

and, finally, i've come to the purpose of this post - why newspapers hold an advantage being so "late" in delivering the news. granted, by the time the papers make it to the newspaper vendors, the news is already out-of-date, but it's a foundation that most Americans interested in the story would have long since forgotten. by that time of the morning, Americans are so emotionally drained from being consoled all night, that reading the information anew in the morning reminds them it's still news, and from there, they can make their own decisions about the facts and how best to "grieve" themselves. it's like getting advice from a best friend on something that's been bothering you. sometimes, the advice is meaningless compared to the advantages of just getting yours thoughts, concerns, and feelings out of your mouth.

now, if only newspapers would learn to use this to their advantage. too often, it seems, they try to compete with these real-time media and forget to remember their existence is based on its previous abilities to adapt to a new role. one of my most favorite movie quotes comes in the movie "The Runaway Bride" - richard gere tells his choice of journalism as a profession was a mix of what he wanted and what his parents wanted for him; it's "literature in a hurry."

cable and network news programs can offer all the condolences their "speech writers" make for them. newspaper reporters can do it almost poetically. "talk is cheap" and the spoken word lasts only as long as one chooses to remember hearing them. facts can be distorted or they can be highlighted - but the truth is, they have to be explained by someone to someone else. i'd prefer hitting the delete key a thousand times to saying something that could be mistaken by someone else to mean something completely different.