Saturday, December 02, 2006

Room Service

The naïve news consumer in the West probably imagines the following standard routine: There is, say, a shooting incident in Alexandria, Egypt; the diligent journalist there urgently phones home (Amsterdam, in this case) and reports; and the news editors put the item in the lineup, or on the proper page in the paper. Nothing like it takes place in reality. A more accurate description, as Luyendijk explains, would be: an international news agency (Reuters, AFP, etc.) runs the story from one of their thousands of anonymous informants. CNN (or some other American news giant) deems it important enough to report. The Dutch editor in Amsterdam calls his reporter in Cairo: "Listen, CNN says something about a shooting in Alexandria, what do you know about it?" The poor reporter, obviously, doesn't know anything about it: after all, Cairo is hundreds of miles away from Alexandria, and the Egyptian state-controlled news channels haven't said a word about the incident, and might not do so for another two weeks, or, more likely, may never say a word at all. Since a live interview with the Dutch reporter is scheduled in no time, the best he can do to answer the typical question – "Let's turn live to our reporter in Cairo: What's the atmosphere in Egypt right now?" – is order a room service and ask the waitress what she would say about such an eventuality.

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