The death of a storytellerThe Global Game blog commented on an event I somehow missed: the death of the Ryszard Kapuściński. Kapuściński was one of the world's great storytellers. He wasn't worried about neutrality (sometimes mislabelled objectivity). He wasn't a practitioner of transcription journalism (which is barely journalism at all). He simply followed a story wherever it led him.
Kapuściński's books all make for fantastic reading and are each illuminating in some way. I've read three: The Soccer War, The Shadow of the Sun and Another Day of Life. The first two are disparate collections of reportage while the third is accounts of life in Angola around the time of the country's independence in 1975. Other well-known books of his are Imperium about the demise of the Soviet Union, The Emperor about life in Halie Selaisse's Ethiopia and Shah of Shahs about Iran's last emperor.
Of them, The Shadow of the Sun is my favorite. Its reportages deal entirely with Africa. It offers a portrait of a continent far more nuanced than that portrayed in the mainstream western media. This is due to Kapuściński's style.
Most modern reporters who are primarily concerned with access. Interview a president, interview an opposition politician, through in a pinch of NGO analysis, stir and serve cold. Most western news organizations only cover Africa when there's a crisis. Their journalists fly in, talk to a few head honchos, portray a few of the most desperate people to illustrate the tragic situation (anit can't be uplifting or even nuanced; it's Africa after all) and then fly out as soon as the immediate crisis is over.
The good journalists don't limit themselves to presidents and cabinet ministers and rebel leaders. The best ones tell the story of how current events affect the lives not of the political elites but of the ordinary people. This is the journalism that is truly compelling. But this takes time. And even if they have the journalists with such skills, most news organizations today won't give them the time to produce such meaningful, nuanced work. Big corporate journalism was supposed to liberate reporters by giving them the resources to do stuff like this. Instead, it's made editors and publishers slaves to always increasing profits for stockholders. Tabloid journalism does this more quickly than worthwhile journalism.
Kapuściński was able to do practice substantive journalism and we are the better for it. With his passing, Radio Netherlands' Eric Beauchemin is probably the best practioner of this art: journalism as storytelling. Kapuściński will be missed.