The reporter as more than observer

There’s plenty of terrible news to read. By that I mean both news that is itself bad — death, destruction, suffering — but also news stories that are just terribly constructed.

Both are overwhelming to me.

But this article from the Times about the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar really struck me — particularly this moment, where the reporter, Hannah Beech, is observing some of the refugees:

One woman staggered down a ravine in the downpour, an infant clutched in one arm and a live chicken in a bag held in her other. Tripping on a root or a rock, she suddenly fell backward into deep mud. Both she and the baby were so weak that there was no cry as they fell.

I reached out my hand to pull her up, and our eyes met, but she was too exhausted to form any other reaction. She immediately turned her gaze forward to the trail, and I watched her as she made her way down the gully and began trudging up a creek.

I’m glad Beech wrote herself into the story. I think there’s something about reporting on human suffering — reporting on desperation — that asks us to be human beings first.

I can think of times where putting the ‘I’ into the story might distract from the scene. If a reporter is bearing witness, the focus should be on the events that needs recording, not the person doing it.

But here, the reminder that Beech is an actor helps convey the inadequacy of what she does. It’s a very human thing, helping someone get back on their feet, but the woman’s lack of response seems like a reminder of just how terrible her situation is.

Beech doesn’t editorialize, but she doesn’t have to. She’s present in just the right way for her story.

Last edited Feb. 20, 2020.

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