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it by each piece of data involved, regardless of whether the information is contained in a published text document, an unpublished spreadsheet, or a semi-public database.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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