This is a rant I tend to have every time I tag along to a news / newslabs meeting so I figured writing it up would save time in the future.
I’ve typed words before about journalism and the relentless churn of repetition, mystic meg prediction and loose, unqualified claims of causality. And somewhere in there claimed that of the Five Ws of journalism
“why is always the most interesting question and because the most interesting answer”. “Because of this that” seems to be the underlying message of most journalism even if it does get wrapped up in insinuation, nudges and winks.
And because I’m as guilty of repetition as the next hack, in another post I made the same point:
In news storytelling in particular, why and because are the central pillars of decent journalism. Why is my local library closing? Because of council cutbacks. Why are the council cutting back? Because of central government cutbacks. Why are central government cutting back? Because they need to balance the national budget? Why does the budget need to be balanced? Because the previous government borrowed too much? Why did they borrow too much? Because the banks collapsed. Why did the banks collapse? [etc]
The problem I think we have is that causality claims are not only insinuations but that they’re confined to the article. Connected journalism would make assertions of causality explicit and free them from the confines of the rendered article or programme so chains of claims could be assembled and citizens could trace (assorted and disputed) claims of causality from the (hyper?)-local to the national to the global. And back.
Given that the world becomes more globalised and more decisions get made above democratically elected governments it’s often not clear where the levers of power might be found or whether they’d actually work if you found them. People become divorced from democracy when they no longer see how the policies they’re voting for actually impact on their lives. And power structures become less of a map and more an invisible set of ley lines. Connected journalism would at least attempt to give national (or international) context to local events and local context to (in)ternational events. Which sounds like something public service journalism should at least attempt.
And given that no one organisation can hope to report everything it would provide hooks and links between news organisations and citizen journalists and maybe help to sustain local news as a functioning industry.
I think this possibly echoes some of what Tony Hirst wrote earlier today about open data and transparency. As schools and hospitals and every other social service gets reduced to a league table of stats the decisions that lead to those numbers and why and because get lost in the data noise. And isolated incidents of journalism don’t fill any of those gaps.
So as ever, none of this will probably happen. Too many people would have to work together before any bigger picture of society got painted and “greater than the sum of the parts” always works better on powerpoint slides than in reality. In the meantime news orgs can continue to worry about getting more news onto more screens and in more channels. Because in New York Times innovation fashion, it’s definitely, absolutely not the journalism that’s the problem, just that people don’t read or need it.