Deconstructing and auditing journalism

As journalism is rebuilt and rethought – out of necessity and opportunity – it’s important to abstract it and understand what functions it performs and what functions we need performed.

I tried to rethink the article as the basic unit of reporting here.

Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti (auf Deutsch) broke down the basic functions of journalism into five here (please correct my translation, German friends):
(1) Research (reporting) and monitoring,
(2) The simple presentation of complex issues,
(3) Identification of trends, visualizing them, and giving them context,
(4) Dialogue and moderation,
(5) Generating attention. [See the discussion about that from Davos here.]

Then Heinz Wittenbrink takes her list farther and breaks down the form, tools, and skills needed to perform each task in a Google Docs spreadsheet (it’s also in German but you’ll get the idea: Research and reporting take the form of wikis and link aggregation [I’d add process blogging]; they require personal skills of exploration and evaluation; and the tools include search, databases, RSS, bibliographic tools, and collaborative tools).

What we need next, I think, is an audit of the output of journalism to, again, see what needs to be replaced in a new vision of journalism: just how much output and resource are devoted to:
* investigative journalism,
* beat reporting,
* breaking news,
* commodity (repetitive) stories,
* flackery (rewriting of PR),
* lifestyle and entertainment,
* production,
* interaction.

Out of that comes a calculation of what we’re trying to save (and what we can augment in new ways). The goal is not to support or replace the newsroom as it stands but to rethink the value it produces and how it can do that in the future, using new tools, skills, and relationships. We need this new accounting to build new business models and to answer the question of how we can sustain journalism. First, we need to redefine it.

  • Andy Freeman

    It’s unclear where trust and/or value are produced by this abstraction. If they’re not consequences, isn’t the abstraction missing something essential?

    It might be interesting to ask “How can I produce value for people by providing them information about current events?” (In that formulation, trust is not necessarily essential. It will come in only as it affects value. One could also start with trust and see if it implies value.)

    The five functions above will produce value in some cases but in others they won’t.

  • I’m sure there’s a lot of truth in your deconstruction, but to me it’s just about telling stories that closely (or not so closely, as the case may be) mimic real-world events. I’d say context is 90% of the story, and editors seem to have quite a bit of free rein in that department.

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  • The very point in redefining journalism is the room “between” as martin buber enlightens us in his dialogue philosphy. The “between” is the point where the I and the YOU begin to exist. So if one writes down an article he or she had been struck by an event or a random discovery. This comes to reality like lightning mostly. Then research starts and the chain of functions as mentioned above is rumbling in the journalist’s head. But you had been struck. If this opening of day-to-day relationship towards the world is not transfered into the text, you’ll miss the news, you’ll miss the very point even everything has been put into words closely to the facts. You have to admit that the I of the writer and the YOU (the part of the world that struck you) have been linked by this abyss. Only moments in life when this gap shows up, meaning of words get together with what is behind words. So the best journalism would be leave everything behind what is not astonishing, Despite all journalism schools I know (i’m from germany) it is the silver bullet for authors not to fullfill reader’s expectations in terms of focusing on the strike that hit us and not the garbage facts lying around waiting to be picked up by investigation and giving a crutch for the anankastic encyclopaedic knowledge which has led us the catastrophe we are facing now with capitalism1.0…

    just my tow cents


  • Yes, I agree with Jörg and Andy. My definition of basic elements of journalism does not say anything about quality or values. They belong to a different level which is not less important, if not even decisive for the success of journalistic work. So I guess we cannot discuss innovations in journalism and ignore qualitiy and value issues. But we have to deconstruct our work in order to rethink it thoroughly and find new ways to develop it in the digital space.

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