Source of despair

July 15th, 2010

Hours after the Stanley McChrystal story got published in Rolling Stone, Politico, a US-based news web-site remarked that the writer Michael Hastings was a freelancer and, ipso facto, could write such a no-holds barred piece. As usual, Politico got it wrong. Any editor would hack his or her right arm for such a damning piece. So what if the ‘sources’ might never be helpful again. My exhibits: Woodward and Bernstein were cub reporters, nowhere near the White House beat, when they cracked Watergate. Seymour Hersh was a freelancer when he broke My Lai. And as New York Times puts it, “It was uncelebrated reporters in Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau who mined low-level agency hands to challenge the slam-dunk WMD intelligence in the run-up to Iraq.”

What Michael Hastings did was old-school journalism. A senior journalist once defined it to me: “It’s calling and calling and tracking leads and this is what journalists used to do before they got used to being fed scraps and doing sting nakhras when their sources were caught in a weak moment (read drunken haze).” In the current times of fixing up appointments in a watering hole, Hastings instead hung around McChrystal and his coterie for a month, which was facilitated by Mt Eyjaffjallajokull’s explosion. You can’t expect McChrystal to say “Bite Me” instead of Biden at the spur of the moment.

Hastings’ interview was an unqualified anti-thesis of Mark Twain’s impression of an interview: “You (the interviewee) close your shell; you put yourself on your guard; you try to be colorless; you try to be crafty, and talk all around a matter without saying anything.”

And anyway, what sources is Politico referring to? Preserving your sources during journalism’s heyday was done by dropping in at their office and chatting them up instead of sniffing around for a story idea. Nowadays, journalists’ sources are restricted to either their gTalk list or, even worse, Facebook friends list.

Post-Twitter, major news stories are broken through the users’ unbridled exuberance to showcase their tweet-sized thoughts. One Mumbai-based tabloid even has a section called ‘cho-tweet’ to chronicle Bollywood celebrities’ garbage heap. The day is not far off when officially every mainstream daily and news channel has desk dedicated to tracking celebrities’ tweets.

del.icio.us:Source of despair digg:Source of despair newsvine:Source of despair reddit:Source of despair Y!:Source of despair