Monday, October 5, 2009

The video of Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit and the meaning of newspapers

The release of the video of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a strange way provides insight into the meaning of newspapers. Shalit was abducted by Hamas in a cross-border raid in Israeli territory outside Gaza more than three years ago. It's an outrageous aspect of international relations that he is still in the custody of Hamas.

My purpose in writing today, though, is not to condemn Hamas for using him as a pawn, although I think the group's conduct is abhorrent and immoral. My purpose is to reflect on how his kidnappers used a newspaper to establish the authenticity of the tape they released in exchange for 20 female prisoners.

It makes one ask what else could they have used to establish that a video was produced at a certain place and time. Clearly the paper is also used to hide that he's reading from a prepared text, approved or even written by his kidnappers. But it's hard to imagine what else they could have used to establish that the tape is real. Perhaps they could have used a laptop screen facing the camera, showing the news of a certain day. But would it have been the same? I don't think so.

What does that say about newspapers? I think it's a reminder of the unique role they can play, even in a digital era. It gives a different meaning to the term "newspaper of record." The newspaper establishes the authenticity not just of a video, but also in a broader sense the people and places it covers. That's why editors should remember the historic aspect of each edition, the fact that the newspaper can reflect a community in both a timely and a timeless way, and in fact should do both every day. In an era when news is instant, the paper itself should be something different. It should reflect the day, but it should also memorialize it in such a way that its readers understand what makes it special, different from all other days. That takes a different mindset than the mindset at many newspapers, which, sadly, is still to fill the holes around the ads with what happened yesterday.

Here's to the day when Gilad Shalit will be free to read a paper of his own choosing in his own country, free at last. That will be a paper worth keeping, a front page worth remembering in a video of his return home.


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  2. Good point, John. Funny, it's almost reassuring to see a newspaper used to document the authenticity of videotape vs. seeing it used to document travels to different parts of the world.

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  3. Report: Majority Of Newspapers Now Purchased By Kidnappers To Prove Date

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