When witnesses take over the news

I’m writing a Media Guardian column on the news after Mumbai: When witnesses take over the news, the impact on our experience of news, the impact on the news event itself, on the role of journalists, on what new we need in news (organization), on what comes next (live video, of course, and assigning witnesses). As always, I’m grateful for your observations, opinions, and links.

: Great collection of links here (via sujeet).

: Wonderful observation about the absurdity of joining pundits on American TV to talk about news from Amit Varma, who found safety in a hotel hard on one of the attacks.

I was on Larry King Live on CNN about three hours ago. They called me and asked me to be on the show as an eyewitness, at which I protested that I hadn’t actually seen anything, I was merely in the vicinity. But they’d read what I wrote in this post earlier, and they wanted me to talk about that. So I agreed, and came on briefly. King asked me if I’d actually seen any terrorists—I felt guilty that I couldn’t offer him any dope there.

Deepak Chopra was also on the show, speculating that the attacks had taken place because terrorists were worried about Barack Obama’s friendly overtures to Muslims. (I know: WTF?) That sounded pretty ridiculous to me, but such theories are a consequence of our tendency as a species to want to give gyan [knowledge]. A media pundit, especially, feels compelled to have a narrative for everything. Everything must be explicable, and television expects instant analysis.

This is foolish, for sometimes events are complicated, and we simply need to wait for more information to emerge before we can understand it. But many of us—not just the pundits—don’t have the humility to accept that. We want to feel in control, at least on an intellectual level, so reasons and theories emerge. But the world is really far too complicated for us. Yet somehow we muddle along.

The right kind of gyan, in the immediate aftermath of this, is historical perspective, which Christiane Amanpour provided on King’s show. Anything else is premature.

: Amy Gahran tries to track down the rumor – and that’s what it is; an unconfirmed and unsourced reprort – that Mumbai police asked tweeters to stop.

: Mindy McAdams on 10 changes in the news.