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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Op-Ed Column by Former NYTimes' Reporter Tierney Demonstrates Media Self-Critique

There is good reason on this morning's New York Times editorial page to think the addition of John Tierney is going to be a very positive development. His column on reporting suicide bombers in the Middle East goes to the heart of the struggle all journalists should keep in mind.

Consider these observations by Tierney of his thoughts going through the motions of reporting yet another tragedy on the streets of Baghdad:

"As I intruded on grieving relatives at the scene and wounded survivors in hospitals, I didn't see what good I was doing for anyone except the planners of the attack. It was a horrifying story, but it was same story as every other suicide bombing, from the descriptions of the carnage and the mayhem to the quotes from eyewitnesses and the authorities.
"When the other reporters and I finished filling our notebooks, we wondered morosely if we could have done a service to everyone - victims, mourners, readers - by reducing the story to a box score. We all knew the template: number of victims, size of the crater, distance debris had been hurled, height of smoke plume, range at which explosion was heard.
"There was no larger lesson except that some insurgents were willing and able to kill civilians, which was not news. We were dutifully presenting as accurate an image as we could of one atrocity, but we knew we were contributing to a distorted picture of life for Iraqis. "

Tierney's reporting from Iraq was among the best filed by anybody and was the one great exception amidst the wreckage so often seen on the Times news pages. His voice on the editorial page is likely to be one of reason and honesty about the limits and possibilities of genuinely high quality journalism. You can read his entire column here but the Times requires registration.