Monday, October 26, 2009

On the reaction to NYT's David Rohde & 'Held by the Taliban'

If you haven't had a chance to read David Rohde's five-part narrative about his kidnapping by the Taliban and ultimate escape, it's compelling reading -- probably more so because it's so understated (or minimalist, as Nieman Storyboard wrote). The story itself carries the narrative.

If you have read it -- or after you do -- check out the blog where Rohde and the New York Times' editor have been answering questions about the story.

After the first day, I was both fascinated and, I admit, shocked that some people ripped Rohde for any number of things, from trying to interview the Taliban leader who wound up kidnapping him, to writing a five-part series about his ordeal. For example, one wrote of concern that the NYT was publicizing Rohde's "folly" and said, "Shame on the New York Times." Another asked if the NYT would "pay the full cost. Taxpayers should not be burdened with this nonsense."

To their credit, I think, Rohde and Bill Keller take on the questions even-handedly. Reading the blog, then, becomes a valuable lesson in how reporting is done in dangerous situations, in how stories like this are put together, and, perhaps most importantly, in how people react to them, and what they get out of them (and don't), and what that means to those of us who try to do great storytelling.

I doubt we're sending anyone to Afghanistan anytime soon. But we can certainly learn from this piece, and the discussions that are happening on the blog, and apply them to what we do.