Bringing a friend to terror

I haven’t written anything about the Mumbai terror because I didn’t know what I had to add and I couldn’t grasp the 60 hours of horror there. I did write about Twitter and witnesses taking over news and — though I wish we wouldn’t make 9/11 the touchstone for all terrorist crimes henceforcth — I could not help recalling my 9/11:

Ever since I survived the 9/11 attacks, and later saw the coverage the world saw – smoke spied from rooftops miles away – I have made sure to always have a camera with me, as the view of the story from the ground was so different from that seen on TV. Now I carry a mobile phone that can capture and broadcast text, photos and video immediately. If I’d had that then, the image I would have shared would have been the image I most remember – not of smoke and helicopters, but instead of black tear-tracks on the face of an African-American woman covered in the grey dust of destruction. Such will be our new view of news: urgent, live, direct, emotional, personal.

And then I read this column in the Times of India and realized that I had perpetuated the same mistake: I was seeing Mumbai’s tragedy from many miles away, rooftop and satellite high. Bachi Karkaria writes about the tragedy from eye level and it is all too personal: the story of a wedding party brought to an end by phone calls with news of the tragedy as one guest decided to go back to her hotel — to the Taj.

“I hadn’t known till then that she was in the heritage suite which we had seen aflame all day,” the columnist wrote. “We pleaded for a miracle, for hope had turned out to be a perfidious ally…. I had brought Sabina to this situation, and I alone was responsible.”

That is how terror is suffered, a tragedy at a time.

  • Jeff,

    This post is a critical moment. For me to hold you at this spot for a while and make sure I speak my piece while you are of the mind.

    For long you’ve professed on these pages the primacy of citizen journalism, and the new worlds it will open. But I think it is only now that you appear to go to the root of the thing.

    When stuff gets live, direct, personal, emotional, it is no longer in the realm of news or media. It becomes an experience shared, emotion felt – almost like realizing the Tolstoy’s definition of art. A worthy goal for all of us communicating creatures to aspire for. Why, it is as if an experience itself is being communicated, a far superior communcation compared to the knowledge and information communication that we do today…!

    But there is something inherently narcissistic and intrusive about this. I wonder if the intensity of an experienced moment will ever allow the capturing and the recording of it and the communication of it without destroying the experiencing moment itself. There is a delicate solitude that the experiencing individual requires to remain as a fragile human in order to be in this experiencing moment. In fact none of can be in any other way. But – and here is my point – in my observation from watching CNN-IBN live online, most – if not all – journalists in India, who were on site when the Mumbai tragedy unfolded, were violating this solitude. People emerging out of the Taj hotel were immediately being crowded, bombarded with inane questions, cameras flashing, voices recorded, etc etc., by these journalists. Please don’t say “journalists have a job to do too…!” because any job description that violates individual space like this just doesn’t deserve a place in a civilized society.

    Is this how it will always be? Is this what we want?

    Regards, Crazyfinger

  • nic

    I read your comments in the UK Guardian and two pages earlier was an interview with Chritiane Annapour ( CNN) in which she felt that only experts told the newsstorties now and not as stories but as lectures full of jargon. The storytelling had gone out of news. This is where it went


  • Crazyfinger,

    That is a fascinating (and new) perspective: the solitude of the participant in news. Not sure what I think. On the one hand, I might argue that in a world of witnesses sharing news, this becomes a choice that is put to them to decide what, if anything, to share. But we’re certainly not there. On another hand, I see the point that if there are even more people sharing, there may be more cameras shoved in the faces of the participants; that is a proper fear of a world where everyone is armed with a camera. Do we ever get to the point where every witness is a potential reporter (sharer)? No, but it’s an interesting theoretical scenario.

    The larger point you raise is privacy in an era when we are all public. I believe that we are all becoming more public and – in general, for many many reasons I don’t have time or space to go into right now – that is generally good. You raise a situation in which that publicness is thrust upon participants (not witnesses – except in some cases, as 9/11 when the buildings fell, all witnesses became participants).

    I’m coming to no conclusions here, only extending the conversation because it is a fascinating one.

  • Eric Gauvin

    I think you’re lumping all communication together and blurring journalism with artistic expression. The black tear-tracks are dramatic component worthy of observation, but that seems to have to do with communicating on an emotional level, which I don’t believe is the main objective of journalism (the writing part, maybe you’re talking about photojournalism…)

    (to be frank, after years of your blogging on this subject, I would think your ideas would be a lot clearer)

  • I do believe that reporting the scene is itself a major part of news. So does every paper that dispatches feature writers or publishes anecdotal and scene-setting and human ledes and interviews.

  • And do you have to end every discussion with an insult? Come on now.

  • Eric Gauvin

    “And do you have to end every discussion with an insult? Come on now.”

    I was just thinking that with the recent scrutiny of your role as a new media consultant, your ideas would be more carefully fleshed out. I guess I’m just pointing out that your blog posts, although vaguely interesting and thought-provoking, are very random and self-indulgent (not what I’d expect from someone with your self-proclaimed important stature in journalism).