Journalism has always been a way to inform people of the events surrounding them, regardless of the scale. Of course, a broad explanation like that doesn't do the notion justice because we have numerous ways of performing that duty. We have broadcast journalism, photojournalism, investigative journalism, opinions, columns and so forth. Today's subject however is narrative journalism.
Dating back to as far as the 18th century, narrative journalism is "the genre that takes the techniques of fiction and applies them to nonfiction. The narrative form requires deep and sophisticated reporting, an appreciation for storytelling, a departure from the structural conventions of daily news, and an imaginative use of language," according to the Nieman Foundation, Harvard's narrative journalism program.
While not having a major impact on the newsrooms, narrative journalism has found its way into features; stories of the human condition, relief efforts and the aftermath of disasters. And sometimes we see it being applied haphazardly in sensational stories in order to drum up those ratings and hits. Such was the case this week.
First of all allow me to quote some of the story from Daily Sabah's news article to provide background:
"A bizarre attack on Oct. 17 that surfaced Wednesday, a 3-year-old boy lost the sight in one eye when an assailant threw acid in the children's playground of a restaurant in Istanbul's Ataşehir district.
"The boy, identified as Y.K., was in the playground on the first floor of the restaurant where his parents dined. According to media reports, a man around the age of 40, entered the playground where his former girlfriend reportedly worked as an attendant and hurled a substance, allegedly toward the woman. But the substance, later found out to be nitric acid, hit three children inside. Two children escaped without injury, although the acid burned their clothes, but Y.K. suffered severe burns on his face and lost the sight in his right eye. He had not sustained life-threatening injuries but his relatives told media outlets that his face was heavily disfigured."
At the time this report came out, the facts were more or less as they were presented and this article appears to convey those. However many articles on various websites took the story for a spin around the block as I assume the facts-only version wasn't quite to their liking.
As deplorable as they are, acid attacks are not unheard of in Turkey, even though they are quite rare. As the attacker's motive is usually due to a failing relationship, the initial assumption was similar.
The narrative of many articles left much to be desired however. A couple of them were reported saying that the attacker was there to reconcile with his ex who was also attendant and turned violent as she denied his request. All this was based on a "claim." First of all, saying that the acid attack was the reaction to an attendant's refusal to reconcile only normalizes the behavior. These type of reports must be handled with sufficient care, right along with domestic abuse, rape and suicide reports, because they heavily affect society's psyche.
The second mistake with the narrative was the focus of the articles. The restaurant was a high-end one and by plastering the "luxury restaurant" all over the titles, the narrative shifted from the attack itself to a message that says nobody is safe. The reactions on social media is ample proof of that.
It appears that while narrating the story with only the relevant facts proved too difficult when it contained "romance, revenge, and luxury" so that in the end we had the barebones of a soap opera.
Narrative journalism is all well and good but one mustn't forget the cardinal rule still applies to this style: Never make up or bend the facts to fit your narrative.
What is even worse is that the whole narrative was wrong to begin with as right now it appears that the attacker is in custody and is the child's uncle-in-law, thus making the child the intended victim all along.
We didn't prepare a Reader's Corner last week but Daily Sabah's Oct. 16 issue had bit of a mix-up on its front page as it was dated Tuesday Oct. 16, on Friday. It appears that the arrival of the Back to the Future Day had a bit of a premature effect on the paper.
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