Monday, October 25, 2010

What Does It Take To Understand Israel?

In response to an earlier post on how bad the media really is or isn't, Yaacov Lozowick addresses a problem facing the media--and others:
The fundamental problem is the assumption that complex reality can be known by reading online newspapers. It can't, of course. If you wish to understand a society and gauge its potential policies, following the media is perhaps better than nothing but that doesn't say much. You need to know the language, and the codes in the language, and the body language (which can't be reproduced in the media at all, not even on television, unless you already know how to read it). You need to read the literature (as in novels, not professional literature), stand in line at the bank, interact with officials and medical personnel, and go to some weddings and funerals. In other words, you need to live there, as part of the society you're trying to understand; and you need to keep in mind that other people around you who are doing the same may well understand the same society in different ways, depending on who they are and where they're coming from.

Or, if you can't do that, perhaps because you've got your own life to live where you are, or perhaps because the society you're trying to understand is dead and gone, then you'll have to work long and hard, and accept that your success will be limited.
Granted that may seem like an awful lot to demand of journalists, let alone the average guy on the street with an opinion--but when it comes to journalists, shouldn't we allowed certain expectations, and have them fulfilled?
Is it too much to expect that a journalist who explains the economic stories have a good grasp of economics? That the military correspondents be well grounded in the practice of war? That the diplomatic correspondents have a reasonable grasp of how diplomacy works, and how so? Is it too much to demand, that the reporters who tell us about matters we don't have the time to delve deeply in ourselves, themselves be experts?
Read the whole thing.

What about if you want to get a grasp of Israeli society?

Michael Totten writes about he personally went about getting the lay of the land in the Middle East:
I learn most of what I know about the Middle East from the people who live here, and I was a bit shocked when I discovered, years ago, that many reporters—especially wire agency reporters—absorb most of what they know, think, and believe about the region from other journalists. I didn’t know anyone, local or foreign, in the Middle East when I first got here, and I initially had to rely on the people I met randomly in cafes and bars and in person via the Internet to teach me what’s going on and how the place works. All my information came from the street. Most of my understanding still comes from the street—not from on high, not from newspapers or press releases, and not from foreign reporters who do not live here. Eventually I worked my way up to the prime minister’s office in Lebanon, and I’ve almost gotten that far now in Israel, but my real education has taken place during long sessions in cafes and bars with Arabs, Kurds, and Israelis.
That, too, involves a lot of work.

One of the arguments advanced on the superiority of journalists to bloggers concentrates on the professionalism of journalists--that they have a degree, that there are people who check their facts etc.

I don't recall offhand ever seeing it argued that journalists are specifically trained to cover the area to which they are assigned.

Isn't that a problem?

Probably--but only as long as people assume that bloggers deal only with opinion and journalists only with facts.

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