Reinventing the article

A month ago I wrote about Sean Blanda’s BarCamp NewsInnovation session on reinventing the article. Sean has gone ahead and wrote up his own blog post that should help flesh this debate out further:

Much of the discussion about reinventing media/journalism happens in a frustratingly small spectrum while instead we ought to be reconsidering everything. No really, everything.

Perhaps the biggest reason traditional content creators are being usurped by seemingly unrelated and non-journalistic web services is because the foundation of journalism is broken. In other words: we need to reinvent the article.

What Sean is arguing for is that we need to stop merely tweaking how journalism is done and rethink it from the ground up. Computers and the Internet allow all kinds of journalism that didn’t exist before, especially around structured data. Presenting information in narrative form made sense in the heyday of newspapers, but that time has come to an end.

Crime data is a great example of something that doesn’t make that much sense in narrative form. Focusing on the narrative when reporting on crime leads to people feeling too much and not thinking enough. People are swayed by the visceralness of the reporting, and not the reality of crime in a particular area. This is how you have people claiming that an area is getting less safe when in reality crime is dropping.

And when the general population begins to believe the opposite of reality, bad journalism can often be the source. Good structured crime reporting, however, can better show the reality on the ground and trends over time.

Chicago Crime and its successor EveryBlock showed a better way to handle crime data. Take the data, put it into a database and show it on maps. All of the sudden this gives crime reporting context. Without context, this kind of reporting can lead to invalid conclusions. EveryBlock can even be used as civic tool to help bring about change.

Residents and politicians can easily see crime trouble spots and can use it as a tool to come up with new solutions to tackle problems.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers on how to make journalism more relevant in a digital age, but I do know that too much of our reporting is done in a manner better fitting a different time.