Daily News, Eternal Stories
Daily News, Eternal Stories:
The Mythological Role of Journalism
The Guilford Press, 2001, 245 pp.
Reviewed by Andrew Vainio
There is a tendency to see the news strictly in terms of facts.
The five Ws, argues Jack Lule, ought to make room for a sixth: What
makes it a story?
In Daily News, Eternal Stories, Lule, who is Chair of the
Department of Journalism a Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania,
and a former reporter himself, undertakes a series of case studies
in order to explain how news is given relevance or, in some cases,
unfairly shaped by myth, the "eternal stories" that predate
the printed word.
He carries out eight compelling case studies of New York Times
coverage, each case representing a mythic archetype which provides
the "exemplary models" which inform journalistic storytelling
through their values and assumptions: The Victim in the coverage
of the killing of Leon Klinghoffer in the hijacking of the Achille
Lauro in 1975; The Scapegoat in the coverage of the killing of former
Black Panther Huey Newton in 1989; The Hero in coverage of baseball
player Mark McGwire; The Trickster in the coverage of boxer Mike
Tyson's 1992 conviction for rape; The Other World in the coverage
of Haiti in the early 1990s; and of course, The Flood in the coverage
of Hurricane Mitch and other disasters.
Sometimes, this is in the service of established social order,
as some myths serve to deflect questions about the status quo. As
Roland Bathes once pointed out, myths serve to make constructed
values seem eternal and unchanging. In other cases, myth serves
to render the senseless or incomprehensible meaningful to readers
and reporters alike: "Myth is essential and always alive. The
stories of myth are necessary to human lives and the societies they
construct," and in some cases "They attempt to reconcile
people to the vagaries of human existence -- to cruel fate, to bizarre
happenstance, to death itself."
The ways in which he examines the coverage of Klinghoffer, the
victim of a terrorist attack, and United States foreign policy vis-à-vis
a Haiti are far more salient now than when he first wrote the book.
These two chapters make for compelling reading.
Lule concludes with 12 propositions about the news, myth and society.
He makes a point here that is worth noting in the context of media
convergence and increasing concentration of ownership of media outlets.
Some view the news, quite cynically and narrowly, as a means by
which consumers may make informed decisions; others still see it
as the means by which citizens may make informed decisions about
public life. Instead, Lule argues, "Myth suggests that news
is intimately entwined with all the wide-ranging issues and concerns
of human existence, not just civic duties and purchasing problems....Myth
means that the most complex phenomena of public life, from birth
to death, will be captured in the dramatically compelling narratives
of news." In this, he provides an antidote to the notion that
people just want information served to them as fast as possible.
What they really crave are stories, and stories told well.
If Lule is guilty of anything, it's that his style can sometimes
be excessively earnest; he puts a great deal of time telling the
reader what he is about to do in his analysis of these cases, and
in the early going this can be a bit grating. That being said, the
beauty of Lule's book is that he doesn't posit his analysis as a
lens through which all news coverage should be viewed. A story about
a fire, he says, is often just that. But he does do an excellent
job of making the case that reporters and readers alike not only
resort to myth as a way to explain things to themselves, but have
an inherent need for these stories.
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