Thursday, October 20, 2005

"New" Information

In a recent conversation, John Robinson (editor of the News and Record) and I discussed new information, its importance, and how its newness is determined. JR helped me to understand some of the questions a newspaper editor/reporter asks to discern whether information is new or old: Has it ever been stated in a public forum? Has the newspaper reported it before? If so, do the readers remember that it was reported? That made sense and I appreciated the time he took to help me understand that discernment process.

The conversation and the
article that initiated it, has made me think about how I differentiate between new and old information and whether such a distinction is important in the TRC process. Like John said, the distinction must have something to do with the intended audience. Last week, we observed a national holiday because Columbus "discovered" America; but we all know that it was only a discovery for some of the people on the east side of the Atlantic and not at all for the people already living here. This community isn't separated by an ocean, but with the widely divergent understandings that exist here surrounding November 3, 1979, it sometimes feels like it is.

While there may be a few details that the Commission will uncover in its research that are not widely known, the bigger task seems to be sorting through all of the facts, rumors, perspectives, and misinformation already floating around in this community about the context, causes, sequence, and consequence of November 3, 1979, and discerning between them. In our second public hearing, Captain Rick Ball encouraged the Commission to focus on "rumors, not facts" and, for the most part, I agree. As much as possible, the Commission will discern between rumors and facts surrounding this event. But rumors only survive because they make sense to people, so the fact that such different misinformation about these events has persisted in separate parts of our community is, in itself, information that can help us to understand our community better.

I've concluded, for now, that there is more than enough information already floating around about the violence on November 3 and, while I recognize and appreciate that a daily newspaper like the News and Record must be focused on finding and publishing new information, such a task isn't necessarily one of the priorities of the TRC. Our primary goal is to create, through public hearings and research, a collective memory of the context, causes, sequence and consequences of November 3, 1979, which will provide a common foundation from which the community can grow together.

And this is where the News and Record's goals and those of the GTRC coincide, I think. Because the GTRC hopes to continue engaging more people in this process, we need to have some place where we can direct newcomers to this conversation to get a basic understanding of what happened on November 3. Because the News and Record hopes to continue covering this TRC process, but doesn't have the space to rehash what is "old information" to most readers in every article, it also needs a place to direct newcomers.

In an effort to address these needs, JR and staff have designated the TRC's work as a "special project" and have collected some (though not all) of their news coverage of the hearings in one place. In particular, they have created a permanent link to Lorraine Ahearn's 1999 article that summarizes a great deal of information about that day in one place.

Thanks to Lorraine Ahearn for conducting the research and writing this article. And thanks to John Robinson for deciding to make all of the information accessible in one place as well as helping me to come to a better understanding of the role of new information in this process.

posted by Jill Williams, exec. dir.


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