Representing Truth

09 Apr 2012

Mary McCarthy:

In any account of reality, even a televised one, which comes closest to being a literal transcript or replay, some details are left out as irrelevant (though nothing is really irrelevant). The details that are not eliminated have to stand as symbols of the whole, like steno graphic signs, and of course there is an art of selection, even in a newspaper account: the writer, if he has any ability, is looking for the revealing detail that will sum up the picture for the reader in a flash of recognition.

On September 20th, 2001, Jon Stewart gave a monologue that was able to capture the pain of an entire nation. He did not recite a list of the dead or attempt to explain how the city and country were rebuilding instead he spoke about his experience of 9/11 and how it recalled to him the assassination of Martin Luther King. It had more truth than could possibly come to light from the simple recitation of data. Likewise, when Elie Wiesel wrote Night, he was able to reveal the Holocaust in its enormity, despite it being the testimony of a single person and only writing his own experiences of the global happening.

All account of truth is merely representation. No literary description can perfectly mimic an actual event nor should we want it to as it would be information excess and comprehension would become difficult, if not impossible. We want our truth to be filtered so that we can access and understand it.

There are two types of journalists: the factual and the representational. The former is boring and easily replaced by a combination of instant communication and global information databases; the latter is the only form that will allow the news industry to survive the rise of the Internet and social media. Journalism cannot be the art of speaking absolute truth for that is an impossible task; newspapers and broadcast stations must become distilleries of the factual, condensing events to best speak to a situation, to become a symbol of the whole incident and, in doing so, reveal an element of truth about the world around which the events occurred.