Monday, February 04, 2008

The Hardest Job in Journalism

Today's Column One article is about The Los Angeles Times Homicide Report, an unusual experiment in American newspapers where each andevery homicide in Los Angeles County is researched by a single reporter and documented on a website which allows readers to post comments. Often the posters are their friends and families of the victims that our culture would prefer to forget.

I have been aware of journalist Jill Leovy's website for some time nowand it's a site of great power. But why am I posting it here? Because it demonstrates how the Internet can increase empathy, as opposed to the stultifying effects of many supposed social networking sites, which often only create compatible subgroups already inclined to hold the same world views.

The Homicide Report makes the unseen seen and tells their story, even if that story is only the end of the story. It allows the unheard to grieve, their voices heard at last. Take some time and read the comments. They will make you weep.

This site flies in the face of the economics of attention, a battle newspapers wage daily in the melee with the rest of the media, ad space fighting for editorial space and the desire of advertisers overriding the desires of the community. It reverses the terrible trend that values entertainment over bearing witness. And the fourth estate does its job -- finally.

And as Leovy points out, it reveals to the public the underlying patterns of murder that our society would like to keep hidden. But why is it hidden? Because it doesn't sell advertising or papers or increase real estate values or get politicians elected.

Leovy had the hardest job in journalism. I hope the new journalist that is replacing Leovy can do as fine and empathetic a job as she has for the last year.


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