A major shortcoming of this blog is a dearth of regular examples of the kind of illuminating and meaningful journalism I preach in my book. Paul McLeary at CJRDaily.org found such an example in the New York Times this week.
The story is from reporters embedded with an American unit in Iraq trying to patrol a Baghdad neighborhood in partnership with the Iraqi Army. And as McLeary points out, the story is written with the authority that could only come from someone who was there on the ground. The story makes observations and judgments that border on opinion, but these observations aren't policy opinions -- they're reactions to what the reporters witnessed and experienced on the scene. And they shed a bright light on the obstacles American troops face in trying to bring order to Iraq, especially in conjunction with the Iraqi troops we're supposed to turn the country over to some day.
The comments under McLeary's post are instructive, because they reveal the vitriol reserved for honest reporting, and the way even a story that is clearly sympathetic to American forces gets twisted by critics into an ultra-liberal screed because it reveals facts that conflict with official statements.
Where this fits with my book is the idea that, for most reasonable people, blunt and vivid storytelling from reporters with the resources and courage to be where the news is can truly engage and enlighten audiences -- helping them understand the complexities of a world that is typically packaged in simple terms and swallowed with little reflection. You can't read this Times piece and not think deeply about what it means for U.S. policy -- whatever your policy preferences happen to be. Good journalism introduces new information that makes people question what they know, or think they know.
More authoritative journalism, more often -- from City Hall as well as from Baghdad -- would make us all more thoughtful people.