Guardian column: Lessons of West Virginia

My latest Media Guardian column explores the lessons of the West Virginia mine disaster and the need to see news not as as product but as a process.

It is time for journalists to tell the audience not just what they know but also what they do not know. And it is time for journalists to admit that, in the end, they don’t decide what is true. The public makes that judgment. So journalists must arm the public to do that job. We get to the truth together.

Another, smaller example: recently, the Associated Press and the Guardian reported that the US National Security Agency was putting cookies on the computers of users who visited its website, in an apparent violation of federal policy. This looked like a tantalising story after the New York Times reported that the Bush administration had the NSA monitor communications without warrants. But cookies are hardly spycraft; they are used to count traffic to websites and target ads. I rolled my eyes at the story on my blog and other bloggers went to the Guardian’s own site to catalogue all the cookies it uses.

So imagine if that AP reporter had a blog and asked for advice from cookie experts before writing the story; it would have been written more accurately, if it had been written at all. And also imagine if Guardian Unlimited linked to all the blogs that were discussing the story, then readers would have gained the perspective of those experts. They also would have seen how the story was being used by the left (who cried about Bush conspiracies) and the right (who cried about media conspiracies). By acknowledging that we may not have the complete story and by including the public in the hunt for facts and perspective we’ll get closer to the truth together. News is a collaborative process.

Alternate link here.

  • FJ

    Mr Jarvis, what you seem to be saying is that newsmaking is some sort of democratic process where everyone chips in and we then decide whether a piece is worth running. That simply is not the case.

    Opinions are cheap, nay free, and the more the merrier. But there is no substitute for a well-researched, well-written news story and the NSA item was one of those, whatever you may think.

  • Valerie Stivers-Isakova

    Some of this stuff about news being a collaborative process seems like empty repackaging of what news, and reporting has always been when it’s doing its job right. The reporter should have called some cookie experts anyway, in moves known as “sourcing,” “reporting” and “fact-checking.” I don’t see why he or she needs a blog to ask the advice of blog buddies on the topic. If blogs facilitate research, that’s nice, but just doing the research is the ultimate point here, on the Internet or no. I’d also disagree with the notion that “It’s time for reporters to start telling the audience what they don’t know.” Your job, as a reporter is to find stuff out. If you don’t know what’s going on, you aren’t doing your job. Asking those who do know, firsthand, what’s happening can be called ‘sharing with the community’ if you like, but it used to be called reporting, and I’m not sure how it’s changed. There are so many exciting ways that the blogosphere is changing news, but these may not be they.