Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Explaining The French Riots In A Way Even Lovers of Freedom Fries Can Understand

Wall Street Journal Goes Beyond The Burning Cars And Schools
Context and perspective. Those were buzzwords often uttered by a guy I used to write for named Dan Rather.
From a news standpoint, that meant going beyond the obvious headlines and trying to discern the "why" of a story, not just the "what."

A story in today's Wall Street Journal titled "French Labor Model Fuels Riots" is an excellent primer for coming to grips with the French riots.

On this side of the pond, most coverage, broadcast and print, has focused on the violence, as if the deaths of two Muslim youths trying to escape the cops was the French version of Rodney King.

But there had to be more to it, and the article was a model of simplicity and clarity in focusing on the 40 percent unemployment rate among younger Muslims, and the discrimination they face because of the specter of long-term work contracts that are hard to terminate.
Employers don't want to take a chance on being stuck with someone who might not be qualified, a conclusion they're apparently more bound to reach with someone of North African descent.

As Marcus Walker and John Carreyrou write:

A stagnant national labor market that needs few new workers leaves minority applicants prone to discrimination. A recent study by a scholar at the Sorbonne ... found that a job applicant with a French-sounding name was more than five times more likely to be invited to a job interview than an applicant with the same qualifications but with a North African-sounding name.

We're so used to media quick hits, especially with foreign news, that it's gotten to the point where we're conditioned to get just enough about a particular story, as if to see or read about riots in 200 French towns is to know what this story is all about.

Such events are significant to note, of course, but as the WSJ piece shows, there's so much more to tell. Yet, far too often, it's that kind of information we rarely get to hear or read anymore.

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