About That Gladwell Quotation….

18May10

ELH’s comment, re-posted:

As a journalist, let me say that I hope that the stories told by preachers and writers/journalists (and even Malcolm Gladwell, whatever it is that he is, exactly) are very, very different things.

As a Jew married to a Jewish atheist, let me say: Sheesh. I’m sure that many Hindus, Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, Bahais (shall I go on?) might join me on that one.

First, I don’t really disagree with any of this, but I think it takes what Gladwell was saying too literally. For context, Gladwell was participating in an exercise called for making concise comments on a number of topics. I can’t be sure what he was trying to say, but I think that he’s calling attention to the power of narrative. Religious texts don’t just set rules, they tell stories, and (in my opinion) the stories and their lessons are more moving than simple legal decrees.

Journalists tell stories as well. I know it seems an obvious point, but journalists refer to their work as “stories” for a reason. They often make use of the narrative arch, protagonists/antagonists, setting, etc. The goal of the work is different; journalism informs, fiction entertains. That’s being overly simplistic, as it’s really more of a scale.

But I think the reason Gladwell’s words jumped out at me is that it seems as if the journalistic landscape is becoming more like religion. It’s a banal point to make, but MSNBC and Fox have the same material available, and yet are very different stories. But take the next step–I’m socially libertarian and economically liberal. I was raised in a pretty multi-cultural environment, and I’ve had the chance to travel and live in Europe. I’ve been upper-middle, middle, and working class. And I spend hours of my day at the Atlantic.

Of course, I read more sources, but I always go back to the Atlantic for my news. It’s almost like a church. And you know, not too long ago, when I was watching Real Time in the 2008 election, it felt sorta like going to church. It affirmed a certain truth that I knew deep down, but Bill Maher put words too. And yes he was occasionally very wrong, at times even apocryphal. Everyone at the Atlantic has been wrong, and other news sources, even ones I don’t like, are right, even though they are mostly wrong.

Religions and journalists both want to deliver narrative truth. I suspect that, in age before branding and marketing, the two were much different in the way they went about this goal, but that is no longer the case.

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2 Responses to “About That Gladwell Quotation….”

  1. Dude! Front-paged! Cool.

    I just think that there should be a difference between a faith-based source of information, and the news. I want journalists to base their work in facts, not faith. I know that in the case of religion, many believe they are dealing with facts, and I know that in the case of journalism, many are constructing what amounts to a faith-based source of information… but a gal can dream.

    Also, Gladwell tends to irritate me, but that really shouldn’t be here nor there!

    Also #2, I should cop to the following: I thought you ran that quote without comment because you, like me, were irritated by it! So I thought I was commiserating. Had I realized I was disagreeing, I might have phrased my comment in a more polite and respectful fashion! Ah, internet. Will you ever stop tripping me up?

  2. 2 poliology

    Gladwell gets to me too, and I actually had serious reservations about posting it because I didn’t want to look like one of those people who worship him. And generally, I think he’s essentially a liberal version of what David Brooks wants to be, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

    On the other point–I mean, yes facts are best. But there are certain facts that draw certain people, and need stories to put those facts in context.


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