Loose threads between standards-based approaches to journalism

I spent Sun­day evening catch­ing up on my Instapa­per list. Through pure serendip­ity I had two arti­cles back to back that go quite well together.

First on the list was Dan Conover’s post “Standards-based jour­nal­ism in a seman­tic econ­omy.” Total bril­liance. From the post Dan writes that:

…when jour­nal­ists cover a beat, they cre­ate an implicit sys­tem of knowl­edge, orga­nized almost exclu­sively by doc­u­ments. Our job is to make that implicit sys­tem explicit, and to orga­nize it by each piece of data involved, regard­less of whether the infor­ma­tion is con­tained in a pub­lished text doc­u­ment, an unpub­lished spread­sheet, or a semi-public database.

Dan goes on to out­line a DRY (Don’t Repeat Your­self) method of stan­dard­iz­ing jour­nal­ism. By cre­at­ing stan­dards in a seman­tic econ­omy we’re able to parse out which facts are used in a mis­lead­ing man­ner. This, in part, gives us a met­ric by which we can mea­sure how trust­wor­thy a spe­cific news orga­ni­za­tion or reporter is.

Conover com­pares this approach to a base­ball game box score where a game is bro­ken down into a series of objec­tive num­bers. While you might miss some of the drama, every base­ball game can, at the min­i­mum, be recre­ated from a box score.

This led nicely into Jonathan Stray’s post “What is news when the audi­ence is edi­tor?” Here Jonathan includes this bit:

If we ask jour­nal­ists how they decide what beats to fol­low, what leads to inves­ti­gate, and what sto­ries to pro­duce, we typ­i­cally get answers involv­ing the “news­wor­thi­ness” of var­i­ous events. Yet jour­nal­ists are at a loss to explain what this actu­ally means. One vet­eran edi­tor described news judg­ment to me as “tribal,” i.e. pub­li­ca­tion depen­dent and essen­tially arbi­trary — which is of course at odds with the­o­ries of “objec­tive” reporting.

Sound famil­iar? Stray describes a sim­i­lar non-standards-based approach that Dan illus­trated in his post.

A pub­li­ca­tion depen­dent and essen­tially arbi­trary approach to news is the antithe­sis of an explicit sys­tem that allows to orga­nize each piece of data involved in a story. If we’re able to ana­lyze the facts con­tained in a news story and under­stand how they relate to the cor­pus of sto­ries from that orga­ni­za­tion we’ll be bet­ter able to com­pre­hend why that story was con­sid­ered “newsworthy.”

By mak­ing jour­nal­ism some­thing that is standards-based and rooted in tan­gi­ble facts we can remove a bit of the magic box effect. After all, a new ten­ant of jour­nal­ism is to be repro­ducible right?

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