McClatchy’s John Walcott would like us all to see its “Guantánamo: Beyond the Law” series, in part, as evidence of what large, old-school, mainstream media organizations can still bring to the table. Says Adam Reilly at The Boston Phoenix: “This willingness to describe [the series] as a generalized mainstream-media victory — as opposed to just a triumph for McClatchy— is commendable. Maybe McClatchy’s competitors can return the favor by helping the series get the readership it deserves.”
Reilly (and at least one McClatchy editor) finds the reception and coverage of the series (and the issues raised therein) lacking. (Perhaps we in the media are so busy covering the many “old media” breakdowns and meltdowns that we don’t even notice an “old media triumph” when it slaps us in the face?)
An “old media triumph,” yes— but one that makes wise use of new media to showcase what eight months of reporting looks like. As Reilly describes it:
The vast scope of [Tom] Lasseter and [Matthew] Schofield’s reporting makes it more likely that their findings will hold up in the future. And, as an added bonus, it gives the public a vast trove of anecdotal evidence, which has been skillfully packaged online at mcclatchydc.com/detainees. There’s a photo gallery, video interviews with 10 former prisoners, and miniature profiles of every single detainee interviewed for the series. Sometimes the old saw about ‘journalism being the first draft of history’ makes you feel sorry for the historians. Not here.
And, I’d add, a “Read the Evidence” feature, which lists and links the documents the reporters gathered and used for the series (government memos, manuals, legal documents, etc.) All of the things that make an on-the-page investigation come alive for readers, all the tools we need to see the breadth of what the reporters found and how they reached the conclusions they did.
More from Reilly on why the series deserves more discussion and attention:
The subject matter…wasn’t new, exactly — the abuse of prisoners, the questionable criteria used to put them behind bars, and the dubious legal framework crafted to justify their ongoing legal limbo have all been covered elsewhere. But the depth of McClatchy’s treatment was unprecedented, and its conclusions were startling. For one thing, most prisoners at Guantánamo had “no intelligence value in the war on terror.” For another, by radicalizing formerly apolitical detainees, Guantánamo may actually have made Americans less safe, not more.
Reilly’s right; it is a “triumph” (by “old media” — with impressive use of “new media”). Let’s spread the word.
Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.