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James
@JamesMiller
Personal account of James Miller, Managing Editor of The Interpreter, a publication on Russia, Ukraine, and Syria. A contributor at Reuters, The Daily Beast, RFE/RL, elsewhere.
JamesMiller
Why Bill Neely's report on #Homs was great
9 years
When Conservative Think Tanks Turn on the GOP
This Is What Good Journalism Looks Like. It's Also What Hypocrisy Looks Like
If I may, @billneelyitv did a great job reporting from #Homs. It's up to reporters in the field to report what they see, what they hear, and the words of the people whom they talk to, in the clearest terms possible. A field reporter's personal observations are very important, but the data they collect is even more important. In this case, Bill discussed what he saw (blood, evidence of violence, emotions and demeanor of witnesses, ect) with what he hear (eyewitness testimony of government, activists, residents, gov't supporters, ect) and what he did not see (in this case, evidence of a massacre on the scale that has been claimed). 

Then it's up to analysts and more data-driven reporters to collect this evidence and weigh it against the rest of the evidence. This is exactly what I have done here: http://www.enduringamerica.com/home/2013/1/17/syria-live-coverage-who-bombed-aleppo-university.html#2110

On this occasion, the observations made by Bill somewhat match the observations of our own data. That's not always the case. When there is a discrepancy, that may tell us a lot. It might tell us that the data is flawed or incomplete, or that the reporter missed something (or found something that the data missed). 

The bottom line is that once upon a time this kind of coordination was not possible. The audience would have to rely 100% on the field reporter to tell us what was going on. Now, we have the ability to collect citizen journalist reports and reports from multiple field journalists in order to compare and contrast all this information. As such, we still need opinions of field journalists, but we also need someone to go into the field and collect a lot of data. 

Now, let's talk about this specific example. Basically, for 3 days the claims have been that a huge massacre took place in the Haswiyeh village north of Homs. I initially wrote that the evidence did not support all of the claims, though I also wrote that the evidence was clearly incomplete. Bill, having reached the town, was finding not only that the evidence was shaky, but that there was a counter-narrative that jihadis were responsible for the attack.

However, as I had already written about this area, I had another perspective through which I could interpret Bill's findings. That perspective is that based on this data, and past experience from other claimed "massacres," and my loose familiarity with this region, it's possible that there are many other alternative explanations - what if neither side was telling the truth.

Perhaps a massacre, or an extremely bloody series of airstrikes, triggered jihadis, or residents, to launch revenge attacks. Perhaps this was just a gun battle with lots of collateral damage. Perhaps the government troops present at the scene (a contribution from Bill that I did not know at all) led residents to lie about who the perpetrators were. Perhaps a series of brutal killings was conducted, but both sides had a different assumption about who the perpetrators were. Perhaps just a lot of people died in air and artillery strikes, and scared residents created their own legends.

The point is, Bill could have walked in and said, "no evidence of 100+ dead, and some residents said it was Al Nusra." His report would have had little value. Instead, he provided lots of data, lots of details about exactly what he saw and who said what when and where.  Or he could have withheld all this information entirely because it perhaps ran counter to a narrative that he would have liked to have propagated. Bill Neely did exactly what he needed to do, and so he gets a major hat tip from me.