Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gettleman--This time on Somalia and pirates

I really shouldn’t read the NYT’s Gettleman. I end up as wound up as Gulliver over some of the inane stuff he writes about Africa. This latest piece, "In Somali Civil War, Both Sides Embrace Pirates" is pretty bad. Seriously—don’t paint Somalia as some stylized Hollywood movie, it’s more complicated than that. Newspapers readers can handle sober descriptions and analysis. We don't need news to be pitched like movie scripts.

Ok, so first of all, stop describing pirates as if they’re some kind of action heroes. What’s up with all the “pirate lair” and “pirate den” language? Second, when you’re describing the forces of a pirate/militia group, use accurate nomenclature. Last I checked, small infantry divisions are made up of way more than “several hundred men.” I’m sorry but 6 technicals and 80 heavy machine guns does not an infantry division make. And then avoid the reference to “grappling hooks”—this is not Pirates of the Horn with Johnny Deep. Third, the hole “check” gimmick…seriously? Finally, “pirate middle manager”? This always makes me think of calling Pirate Inc. HQ, and having a receptionist answer ‘Good morning, Pirate Inc., for middle managers, press 5.’ Though I suppose if they’re Shabab-affiliated it would be minus the elevator background music. Seriously, this is reporting?

So far, I’ve been ranting about style. Now on to substance (sort of): is there anything important in this article? Did you learn anything of import by reading it? Umm, not really, in fact more than likely you didn’t. Why, because there’s nothing there. Of course both sides are leveraging pirates for their own gains, of course these alliances may be temporary, of course the pirates are building up their land bases and of course Western presence is making things harder for their operations. The article read like an email a sixteen year old sends his brother after going on a really cool class trip (the trip was arranged for journalists the article says). There are ways to write about this that actually don't make Somalia and its people look like an adventure film and its hapless characters. Start writing that way, please.

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