Saturday, May 22, 2021

Good Coverage Takes Time

There has been over the past few days a wave of antisemitic violence that's targeted Jews in the U.S. and around the world, often styled as a "response" to Israeli activities in Gaza. For example, here's an L.A. Times article about several Jews getting jumped in front of a sushi restaurant in the Beverly Grove neighborhood. CBS has a story about a 29-year old Jew brutally beaten by pro-Palestinian protesters in New York City's Diamond District. The BBC covered terrifying racial abuse targeting Jews in London. CNN ran a piece about these attacks demonstrating a larger, nationwide trend. I could go on.

In short, it is not good right now. And one thing I've heard from many of my fellow Jews is frustration that these attacks are not appearing to get much coverage or attention, compared to other communities which have been the victims of hateful violence.

Now at one level, this is an unfair charge. I just gave links to coverage in the Los Angeles Times, CBS, BBC, and CNN. It would not have been hard for me to find more. But I'm going to make a perhaps more unpopular take, and simply say the following: news coverage takes time. Good news coverage takes more time. And most issues, affecting most communities, take time to percolate out from those communities and penetrate the broader social (and media) consciousness. 

There's nothing unique about Jews here -- we only notice it because it's our community so of course we hear about it before anyone else does. For example, the Los Angeles attack occurred in a largely Persian Jewish area, and from my time at Berkeley I had several students from that community. So I reached out to check in on them, and wouldn't you know it if they weren't friends with some of the Jews who were injured. Two degrees of separation between me and the victims. It is utterly unsurprising that I was going to hear about this before the national media. It would be wild if the Washington Post scooped me on this. My network and my friend group and my twitter feed mean I start seeing these when they're just reports or viral videos -- well before any national coverage could be expected to come in.

I've talked about this before. Within one's own group, one sees these issues from basically their inception. We know (or know who knows) the individuals involved. We're in the same social media network. We're tied into the local community coverage. And so we see every agonizing hour/day/week where these issues which are huge for us seem to be ignored by the broader public until finally, laboriously, belatedly they scratch their way into the mainstream. Meanwhile, for other groups, we don't have that level of integration and we don't see the process. Our awareness of the issue is essentially coterminous with when it reaches the mainstream media, and we thus mistakenly conclude that the mainstream media covered the issue from the moment it began.

But in reality, that's almost assuredly untrue. The reality there is going to be the same as the reality here -- the issue will be there, known to the community, the talk of the community, infuriating the community, for hours/days/weeks without it ever breaking into the mainstream until finally it does. It's the same dynamic -- the only difference is at what stage you become aware of the process. The Sheikh Jarrah controversy had been live for literally decades before 99.9% of you had ever heard of it, or it got picked up by international media outlets. Ditto issues of police brutality, or #MeToo, or anti-Asian hate crimes. In none of these cases was there no time lag between the issue being one of extensive knowledge and importance within the relevant community and its emergence in prominent mainstream media coverage. 

And I'll go even further still: part of the reason it takes time is because it inevitably takes time (for better or for worse) for a story that affects a particular community to penetrate the particular, rarefied air of the national media. But in addition, it takes time to do good coverage of that story. To verify accounts, to interview sources, to learn about the issue, to contextualize the situation. Good coverage takes more time than retweeting someone else's viral video. And so there's going to be an inevitable gap between when everyone in your Facebook group is talking about a thing that happened in Atlanta and when the Chicago Tribune puts an article about it on its front page. That's just the way it works.

Good coverage takes time. I'm not going to say all the coverage of the hate crimes targeting Jews right now is good. But the fact that we, in the Jewish community, are hearing about it and angsting about it and frightened over it well before most of it is showing up in the media sources our non-Jewish friends read -- well, that's normal.

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