Networked Journalism Education

Thinking strategically about information in the newsroom/classroom

without comments

Journalists write stories about the information they have access to. The strategic thinking that should be the next step — who needs this information, how might they act on it, how will they find it, how will they share it, how is it useful to them? — is curiously lacking in most newsrooms. This piece of the information circuit isn’t built into the journalistic process. Journalists find information, package it, distribute it. End of story. I’m not talking about “news you can use” in a consumer sense. It’s about thinking through much more intelligently the value of the information we spend time collecting and distributing. It’s the ‘value-added’ aspect of information manufacture that is lacking in most local newsrooms.

Gerry McGovern has an insightful column about the nature of information on most Web sites. His point applies equally to journalism-as-information:

Many organizations have a strange attitude towards information. Its creation is nearly always disassociated from its use. Information is rarely seen as useful or purposeful. It’s just there because people need it. It doesn’t help you do things. It’s simply there for you to read just in case you need some information.

The fact that you need to read some information has no connection with the fact that you need to do something. Information gets created for information-purposes only. No liability. No accountability. And the job of the people who created the information is finished once they have created it. They are not even responsible for its findability. Saying it’s up on the Web is enough.

Most journalists equate “doing something” with advocacy. It’s not objective. It’s too much like public relations. It smells bad.

Yet, disconnected information packaged in random bits no longer serves the function it once did, when information was scarce. Now it just adds to the noise. Jay Rosen spoke to this in a chat on Poynter. He said:

The most important thing for establishing credibility is to learn how to be useful and truthful — intellectually honest — for a “live” group of people, a user community. Anything that teaches you how to be useful and truthful for a community of active users is helping you become a better journalist.

ADDENDUM: Vin Crosbie, Digital Deliverance, professor, thinker, writes about the greatest change in the media of the past 35 years in The Greatest Change in Media Made Newspapers Obsolete:

The greatest change has been that people’s access to media has changed from scarcity to surfeit. It’s an even bigger change than Gutenberg’s invention of a practical printing press, the invention of writing, or even the first Neolithic cave paintings. It’s the greatest change in all of media history. And it occurred in only 35 years — half a human lifespan.

If the unprecedented change in the balance of Supply & Demand for information — from scarce supply to surfeit supply or even information overload — is the root cause of the problems that media industries now face, how does the root cause contain materials from which comprehensive solutions can be constructed?

The solutions lay in understanding how this change affects pricing, packaging, the power balance between content providers and consumers, and even subjects such as what is local or what is community.

Part of the implications of this change, as many others have pointed out, is that helping people navigate through a flood of information is vastly different than dumping scarce bottles of information in the town square during a drought. In a drought, any water will do. People will find you and they will pay a premium. In a flood, only clean, well bottled water delivered to where you are matters.

We are just now figuring out that we have to make the information/journalism we deliver intensely useful, meaningful, shareable in ways that we’ve never had to think about. If we figure out how to deliver clean, safe water, well organized, right when and where people most need it, a business model will emerge. As journalism educators, we have to attend to our product, services, and value in this vastly different context. Then we will survive.

(Re-posted from a class blog that has since been taken down, written June 2009)

Written by Donica

August 3rd, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Leave a Reply