May 19, 2011

NY Times tells the Story of the Story of Obama’s Mideast Speech

The degree to which communication’s globalization has changed the way we think and talk about the news is evident in today’s reporting on Obama’s Middle East speech.  Once upon a time, communication-via newspaper, radio, what have you—was considered a transparent vehicle conveying to readers and listeners what was happening on the ground.

Not so any longer. Now we are in full postmodern swing and “the news” highlights not only things that happen in the world (like presidential speeches), but how they are worded, and who these words are supposed to impact, and how different audiences may interpret what is said.  The fact is that these elements of communication always mattered, but the speed and visibility of our interactions with those elements has helped press into relief the degree to which they play a part in how events themselves (like peace talks, political decisions, elections, wars) unfold.  All of this made the concept of narrative more important—narrative is the elements of communication in action, all working together on a jointly constructed story of events unfolding in real time, and it also the interplay of that construction with events themselves.

To wit:  The New York Times reports on the narrative, in preview of the speech.   Marc Lynch observes that the speech is part of the story being woven by the Administration in advance of the Presidential election:

Pivoting into presidential campaign season, they are going to want to have in place a robust story to tell,” said Mr. Lynch, who writes the Middle East blog for Foreign Policy magazine. “The more that they can choose a few clear themes that fit together into a clear story, the better.

The Times also reviews the different audiences to which the speech will be aimed—a challenging crowd at best: Liberals, American Jews, 2012 political rivals, and Congress.  The content is interesting but so is the fact that journalism –on the front pages of newspapers of record, not only blogs or in other forms dedicated to commentary—increasingly takes the form of meta-reporting on the “story of the story.”

I wonder how long it will be before this new way of thinking about the structuring as well as the content of events changes our understanding of events themselves. Or perhaps we are far along that path of new thinking already.


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