In Praise of Journalism

Over 20 years ago, Raymond Bonner was my man in Latin America. His dispatches were essential reading.

Today, I hang on Jeffrey Gettleman’s every word filed from Africa. For those new to him, Jack Shafer’s recent profile in Slate is an excellent introduction. What’s so special about Gettleman is that he’s a great newspaper reporter who writes like a magazine writer.

So I’m not surprised to see this piece by Gettleman in the current issue of Foreign Policy. His prose (as Shafer noted) is deceptively simple. Here’s Gettleman’s evocative set-up:

In more than a dozen trips to Somalia over the past two and a half years, I’ve come to rewrite my own definition of chaos. I’ve felt the incandescent fury of the Iraqi insurgency raging in Fallujah. I’ve spent freezing-cold, eerily quiet nights in an Afghan cave. But nowhere was I more afraid than in today’s Somalia, where you can get kidnapped or shot in the head faster than you can wipe the sweat off your brow. From the thick, ambush-perfect swamps around Kismayo in the south to the lethal labyrinth of Mogadishu to the pirate den of Boosaaso on the Gulf of Aden, Somalia is quite simply the most dangerous place in the world.

And here’s the nutgraph:

It’s crunch time for Somalia, but the world is like me, standing in the doorway, looking in at two decades of unbridled anarchy, unsure what to do. Past interventions have been so cursed that no one wants to get burned again. The United States has been among the worst of the meddlers: U.S. forces fought predacious warlords at the wrong time, backed some of the same predacious warlords at the wrong time, and consistently failed to appreciate the twin pulls of clan and religion. As a result, Somalia has become a graveyard of foreign-policy blunders that have radicalized the population, deepened insecurity, and pushed millions to the brink of starvation.

Now read the whole story to understand why we should be paying much more attention to failed states in this region of the world. And for you inveterate NY Times/mainstream journalism bashers, consider yourself a lucky free-rider.

3 Responses to “In Praise of Journalism”

  1. Moi? I hardly think the NYT is worthless, though I have indeed been free riding, if you don’t count the very small value of my eyeballs to their advertisers, ever since I haven’t needed to clutter up my house with newsprint. 

    You raise a good point. It’s hard to see blogs replacing work like that. Even Somali bloggers couldn’t do so, given language and culture barriers as well as technological ones.

    The way I see things might work out (in the interim while the world decides whether to repair itself or collapse into a Greater Somalia as a whole) is that somehow Gettleman would be able to present his work on some service while owning copyright. He should be able to capture the bulk of the revenue himself. Hopefully this will be enough to cover his expenses. I admit that it’s not obvious how that will work for efforts of this high caliber and difficulty and relatively low demand. 

    (I woke up, of course, wondering what people were saying about me, not about Somalia.)

    It is interesting, nonetheless, that this article, which has the ring of impolite and “extreme” truth, appears in a small circulation magazine rather than in the Times. 

    Admitted that it is almost irrelevant in modern practice whether it appeared on NYT or FP. It’s now, via your auspices, going into my shared reader feed, and thence to my readership, and thence who knows. 

    But I am a bit mystified why this doesn’t appear under the imprimatur of the Times, even though “Jeffrey Gettleman is East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times.” 

    Either way, yes, I am totally free riding here. And admittedly I’m speaking as an outsider. As a an undeclared Northwestern student I was turned down at Medill many years ago and consequently have never been inducted into journalism culture, so perhaps there’s something I’m missing. If the Times is really delivering the news and not a whitewashed version of it, why is this not on nytimes.com ? 

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    But many elements of this story have appeared in the Times–in his dispatches. In fact, I recognize some of the incidents he describes as fairly recent.

    Still, your point rings true, because after seeing this piece in FP, I immediately wondered why it wasn’t appearing in the Times magazine (which I suppose you could have been referring to as well).

    My dig at the end was aimed broadly, not personally. That said, in many of the diatribes lodged against the Times and Post during that whole Gore/Will/Revkin episode, I did note all the places where it was cavalierly suggested that journalism had outlived its usefulness.

    As for the future of the profession, here’s one solution raised yesterday that, in the wake of your experience, I doubt you’ll sign on to.

  3. […] indispensable Jeffrey Gettleman has a heart-wrenching dispatch on Dot Earth: We walked through a camp for […]

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