Media Get It Right on Mandela's Death

Monday, 09 Dec 2013 08:46 AM

By Jon Friedman

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The media are usually a convenient scapegoat in tough times. If only the business journalists had warned us about the dangers of some financial instruments, the tech bubble wouldn't have burst more than a decade ago, and the nation could have avoided a financial meltdown in 2008-2009. If only we had been warned about presidential policies, we could have been spared a lot of anguish. If only . . .

But when journalists rise to the occasion, they should get the credit that they deserve. One such occasion occurred after it was confirmed that Nelson Mandela had passed, at the age of 95, after a long illness.

I flipped the TV channels and read online much of the coverage of the great man's death. The media did a stellar job of informing us about his life, accomplishments, and legacy.

Of note, the TV media resisted the urge to turn Mandela into a saint (though some accuse them of doing so). They covered the full story, pointing out the controversies as well as the high points that made Mandela come across globally as such a galvanizing and inspirational leader. The coverage in South Africa and elsewhere in the world was immediate and dramatic.

Most of the networks offered interesting commentary, pointing out the first level of Mandela's hardships while he was imprisoned for 27 years. The media covered all the angles, even pointing out how much soccer, boxing and rugby meant in Mandela's annals. It was both moving and riveting.

This was the best of journalism, telling fascinating stories in an informative way while using appropriate restraint and not trying to hype a big story. How could anyone hype a life as rich as Nelson Mandela's anyway?

The media gave us a blueprint of what good work can look and sound like, whether it is something as noteworthy as the death of a great statesman or something as mundane as an ordinary political election or a crime story. The less hype we see, the more successful the media generally are.

I hope journalists can keep this in mind.

I'm not holding my breath though.

Jon Friedman writes the Media Matrix blog for He is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)Invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution." Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.

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