Written for the Huffington Post: It’s Journalism 101: You have to have a story. Who’s the protagonist? Who or what are they up against? And most importantly, what does it mean?
It’s been a foundation of reporting for so long that it’s come to seem self-evident. But is it?
Story-telling, let’s remember, is the essence of fiction. But reality, as most of us live it on most of our days, is precisely not fiction. There is no narrative arc. Nothing ends up meaning anything. Stuff — even if it’s big stuff — just happens.
If you want to get a story out of that, you have to pluck out characters and events and fit them into some kind of order. You have to act, in other words, not as a reporter, but an author.
And so we get the invention of Terry Jones. In reality, Jones appears to be an obscure bigot with about 50 deluded followers. But in the media, Jones has become the world-famous protagonist of a parable of religious intolerance. (Not to mention the proximate cause of some number of deaths, already suffered or yet to come.)
The only reason for this is that, in a slow month for news, and with the nation gripped by the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy (itself rife with fictional elements), Jones’ threatened Quran-burning made for a good story. Jones, you see, supposedly expresses an emotional truth about “America and Islam” — an emotional truth that somehow trumps the fact more than 300 million other Americans apparently had no plans to burn Qurans on 9/11. [Read more…] about Quran-Burning Coverage: The Hollowness of “Storytelling” as a Journalistic Value