How can you tell it is great journalism?
This is a totally personal view but great journalism is fairly rare and many people might not recognise it when they see it. So I offer this piece by a well known journalist, a giant of the industry, described by the New York Times in 2005 as ‘probably the most famous foreign correspondent in Britain’ as an example of a craftsman at work.
For my money great journalism starts by telling you something you didn’t already know. I am a regular traveller to the Middle East and an interested observer of the interaction between the Muslim and Christian and/or Western world. And while I did know that the proportion of Christians was falling in places like Lebanon, I did not know there was a slow and silent exodus.
Secondly, great journalism tells its story in pictures and senses. Take this early paragraph:
The mosque’s minarets tower over the cathedral, but the Maronites were built a spanking new archbishop’s house between the two buildings as compensation. Yet every day, the two calls to prayer – the clanging of church bells and the wailing of the muezzin – beat an infernal percussion across the city.
The writing takes you to the place. A few words create the picture and the sound and, if you have imagination and experience, the warmth and the smell of the Middle East.
And then there is the poetry of Robert Fisk’s words:
‘beat an infernal percussion’
‘This is, however, not so much a flight of fear, more a chronicle of a death foretold.’
‘neatly separating the Middle East roots of their own religion from the lands of Islam’
Being able to write news as poetry is for me a mystical skill; charting the story of the global human journey in a way that is evocative and moving, is akin to singing a hymn. You are deliberately entwining the prosaic with the divine. By doing so the writer gives the prosaic meaning and anchors the divine in the here and now, in a way that makes it hard to ignore. Why else do Christians sing in September ‘We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land’.
Such jewels of journalism are rare. Take a few minutes to enjoy.