Another slam at Newsweek’s article on Lewiston
Posted by Judy K. Warner on January 29, 2009
Our friend Mars sent us a blog post from a Maine writer named Jim who is ticked off at the author of the Newsweek article Ann has been commenting on (here and here). He knows the local area inside-out, and much of the article is too locally-oriented to be of great interest to those who don’t live there. But his criticisms are important, and they apply to many journalists who write about refugee matters. Actually, they apply across the board to journalism today.
Jim titles his post “Another journalistic hatchet job on Lewiston, Maine.” He delves into the history of economic growth in Lewiston, which began quite a while back and had nothing to do with refugees. Here are the paragraphs that interest me:
If you read Ms. Ellison’s article, however, you would know none of that. [Comment: The author is Jesse Ellison. Usually Jesse is a male name; the female version is Jessie.] The arrival of Somalis in Lewiston began before the 2001 date the writer arbitrarily assigned. The influx of refugees into the community began several years before that, and it was more than one family that started the migration. Per capita income has gone up, but to use the term “soared” reveals her ignorance about the state’s ongoing economic struggles. While a few in Maine have soaring incomes, most of us struggle to stay afloat in the middle class.
There are so many other things wrong with Ellison’s article that I could easily spend several thousand words countering her inadequate 903. That an editor, at a national magazine would allot the same amount space allocated to local parking issues, and city code violations, for a complex, and multi-faceted issue like immigration, given the community’s prior history, speaks volumes about the kind of “yellow” journalism that Newsweek’s now practicing.
Jim criticizes Ellison’s lack of context for quotes, and notes that he/she should have dug deeper to find out why 50 percent of the Somali population is unemployed.
With all due respect to Richard Florida and others that think all it takes to grow your economy is to import non-English speaking refugees, and presto! You’ve got a diverse economy. There’s much more to it than that.
What Ms. Ellison has accomplished, beyond showing her lack of skills in digging below the surface as a journalist, is to again kick a hornet’s nest and run, leaving those of us who are committed to the community’s future, dealing with the potential aftermath of her piece. If Ms. Ellison had done any homework, she’d know some of the history of the community, and recognize that strong feelings still run deep in this area, as evidenced by the comments in the local newspaper, and other online forums. Her article has done nothing more, in my opinion, than to fan the flames of anti-Somali, and anti-immigrant sentiment, and give certain elements in our area (and beyond) cover to run with it.
“Certain elements” means “people who think bringing a lot of Somalis to Lewiston isn’t such a hot idea.” It has a connotation of racism and xenophobia.
I think Jim’s criticism of the Newsweek editors may be more relevant than his criticism of the reporter. We’ve learned that some reporters do delve into the stories they are writing on refugees. But when they come up with information that reflects negatively on refugees, or ethnic groups, or government policies, the editors usually either cut the story down or kill it outright. They want warm-and-cuddly copy on refugees, and that’s pretty much what Ellison gave them. Or what they cut the story to reflect. It would be interesting to know what Ellison originally wrote, or wanted to write.
The way this applies to all journalism today is that many media outlets have a pre-set agenda on just about everything. Woe to the reporter who bucks the party line. I doubt that every reporter who has written adoring copy about Barack Obama really feels so worshipful. Perhaps they all hate George W. Bush, perhaps not. But those who run the media are in charge, and the reporters and other hired hands have to toe the line. That’s one reason we bring you this blog. Nobody owns us; nobody pays us; nobody tells us what to write.
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