Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Literary House Director Mark Nowak Joins Al Jazeera for Coverage of Chilean Mine Rescue

CHESTERTOWN—Writer and social critic Mark Nowak, Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College, was invited to the newsroom of the Al Jazeera English network in Washington, D.C. Tuesday evening, October 12, to offer extended commentary on the rescue of 33 miners trapped for 69 days in the collapsed San José copper and gold mine in northern Chile.

Through his book Coal Mountain Elementary and his ongoing Coal Mountain blog , Nowak reminds everyone that tragedies occur almost daily in unsafe mines around the globe. The story from Chile has fascinated the world because of the record amount of time the men survived in their dark cavern while industry experts designed and executed a high-tech rescue. During his four hours in the Al Jazeera studio on Tuesday evening, test runs of the missile-like capsule were performed and the first miner was lifted to the surface. Nowak was featured in three separate segments during the rescue operations.

Nowak said he was honored to help narrate the historic mine rescue for millions of Al Jazeera English viewers across the globe (the network serves 220 million households in more than 100 countries). And he emerged deeply impressed with the network and news anchor Shihab Rattansi.

“I am typically quite critical of the major media’s coverage of the mining industry–the trend of sensationalizing the ‘miracle narrative’ while neglecting the almost daily death toll in the industry,” he notes. “But I was fortunate to see that another kind of media coverage was possible. I watched the critical consciousness of a news anchor at work as Rattansi critically pushed his guests and the on-site Al Jazeera reporters.”

Nowak observed as Rattansi furiously multi-tasked in typical anchor fashion—questioning the newsroom researcher who was following Twitter feeds from the rescue scene, reading and highlighting wire feeds, asking off-camera questions of the reporters on the ground, listening to information through his ear bud and taking cues from the cameraman.

“What was atypical was the way in which Rattansi processed this information when the camera was on,” Nowak said. “On multiple occasions throughout the night, he probed his interviewees about the media coverage of the event, particularly the seemingly staged presence of Chilean President (and former TV mogul) Sebastían Piñera.

“During each of my three segments that night, I felt engaged by someone who was not simply processing the tweets and the wire stories and the ear bud messages for the most heart-wrenching human interest stories (and the best Nielsen ratings), but someone who was processing all that information in order to simultaneously tell the story and question how the story is being told.”

Images: Top, poet Mark Nowak, director of the Literary House at Washington College, offered commentary on Al Jazeera English newscasts led by anchor Shihab Rattansi, bottom.

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