Paintball and terrorists: novelty stories in terrorism?

Novelty stories are the filler and pick-me-up pieces in the media. Rarely does a quirky story carry a larger significance, and generally they are thrown at the end to lull the reader, listener or viewer back into a serene state so that they can continue into their next program or activity without too much worry.

Can you then have a novelty story on terrorism? Apparently, yes.

Two members of Hezbollah in a paintball match against Western Journalists (Photo: vice.com).

‘Paintballing with Hezbollah‘ tells the story of four Western journalists and a counterinsurgency expert playing an organised game of paintball with what they call “A-Team of terrorism”.

This article is particularly interesting as it takes an angle that is uncommon within terrorism reporting. Of course, the article is not absent of conflict or other more serious news values, but that is more the nature of the topic than the writing. The writing style itself is relaxed and even comedic:

“This guy is named Coco?”
“No, of course not,” he answers. “Nobody is giving their real names, man.”
“Is he, umm, in the Resistance? If he’s not, that’s fine; the other guys look legit. But I need to know if he’s real for the story.”
“Oh, they’re all real, bro,” Ali says in a high-pitched voice he uses whenever I challenge the veracity of his information. “Wait and see.”

While ‘Paintballing with Hezbollah’ is a quirky article, there is clearly a deeper motive in its writing. The piece primarily seems to be seeking to humanise members of Hezbollah, in the same way that companies like The Guardian and BBC avoid using the term ‘terrorist’.

Does a news piece lose its novelty if there are more serious elements and issues raised by the piece?

The article is still undoubtedly quirky and humorous, which is perhaps a technique in attempting to overcome a socially embedded atmosphere of fear relating to ‘the war on terror.’ However the piece does not make light of the situation, and does not skew that these were still dangerous and well-trained men. When the leader of the group chants ‘Jew’ while shooting a rope, the article makes clear that this is not just an entertainment piece.

But the story as a whole is as effective as a hard news piece in giving insight into the Hezbollah group, and have: “together pulled off something, if not special, then notably unique.”

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