Wick Communications

Capturing the complexity

In journalism on 25 Aug 2011 at 4:20 pm

There is a term of big-city journalism you’ve probably heard: “parachuting in.”

It refers to reporters – usually those at big regional or national dailies – who parachute in to a smaller place either for a big story, or something like this.

It’s a story by Richard Fausset of the Los Angeles Times and it’s a really terrific piece of journalism – the kind that I like most. It uncovers some unknown bit of cultural life that speaks to the universal condition. You can read it yourself, but it concerns a previously unreported consequence of a federal immigration law known as 287(g) that provides for deporting illegal immigrants who are convicted of crimes.

Fausset reports that Gainesville, Ga., a city of 34,000 with a mushrooming Hispanic population, has – get this – 177 taxicabs in operation. That’s probably 170 more than we have in Half Moon Bay. There are so many cabs because illegal immigrants are afraid to drive for fear of being caught without a license or for some other offense that might get them deported.

Great story. But Fausset made a big-city mistake in covering small towns. He oversimplified. …

After writing that a state crackdown might send people with questionable immigration status scurrying away, Fausset writes that Gainesville cab operators are holding their breath. And, almost as an aside, throws in:

Those who remain, like Mateo, are waiting to see how their reception in this former Ku Klux Klan stronghold — always a complex mixture of suspicion and indifference, hostility and gracious welcome — might change as the illegal immigration crackdown intensifies across the South.

Now, it’s true that Gainesville has “always (been) a complex mixture of suspicion and indifference, hostility and gracious welcome.” I know because I lived there for a dozen years. But the same could be said for Los Angeles. I know because I also lived there for a dozen years. In fact, it’s probably true about your hometown, too.

Fausset knows, probably without having the conscious thought, that his readers weren’t really interested in Gainesville, per se. It is really just the venue for a bigger story. Additionally, he’s not likely to get too many letters from readers in Gainesville who don’t appreciate being described in such sweeping terms. (Incidentally, the state’s “grand dragon” of the KKK did live outside of Gainesviille at one time. But, at least in the last several decades, I don’t think you could find more than a half-dozen people who associate with that racist group. Does that make it a “former stronghold?”)

What our big-city brethren sometimes fail to account for in their stories from our communities is that we live in places that are every bit as complex as Los Angeles. You know it. And I know it. Because I’ve lived in both kinds of places.



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