081030 Taipei Times

With hot topics online, it’s the end of the story as we know it
By Jeff Jarvis
THE GUARDIAN, NEW YORK
Thursday, Oct 30, 2008, Page 9
 
In the crush of news around the financial crisis — and its ensuing overdose of commentary and confusion — it occurred to me that the basic building block of journalism, the article, is proving inadequate. We need its next generation.The story has been all we’ve ever had — what would fit on to a newspaper page or into a news show. But discrete stories delivered over days cannot adequately cover the complex news going on now. A series of articles conveys to each of us, depending on our knowledge, too much or too little information, too much repetition or too little explanation. The knowledge is not cumulative. Each instance is necessarily short-lived and shallow.
 
Deeper articles — big packages with graphics, series, special sections — are attempts to solve the problem, but they often only exacerbate it, giving us more to read or more to miss. We can’t catch up. We don’t get smarter. The article perpetuates a Groundhog Day kind of journalism. Online, we have so many more means to present and explain news. News becomes a process more than a product. We can stretch the timetable so that news need not expire into wrapping paper after a day. News can be updated, corrected, expanded, discussed, linked. So what is that essential unit of news, post-article?
 
In an insightful essay six years ago, Meg Hourihan, the co-creator of Blogger, wrote that the atomic unit of media was no longer the publication, section, page or article but the blog post: a nugget of information or opinion with its own permanent address.These countless carbon atoms can be connected to others to become molecules of discussion and intelligence. But that alone won’t work as an organizing principle for informing a world. Single posts, videos, Wikipedia entries or search results may be new building blocks of media, but we need order atop them.
 
We have many tools to work with now, first and foremost the link. The link can take us to more or less background, depending on how much each of us needs, to original source material and to many perspectives. The link becomes as important as the brand in news. Some of the best explanatory journalism of the financial crisis has come from unexpected sources — in the UK, an unusual live edition of Peter Day’s. In Business on BBC Radio 4; in the US, the narrative radio show This American Life (and a spin-off podcast, Planet Money). Neither is known for covering breaking business news. They could be discovered not because we were drawn to their brands but because listeners linked to them.
 
Still, we need magnetic poles to gather news around and organize it. If not the article or brand or the happy coincidence of links, then what? I think that the new unit of journalism needs to be the topic. Newspaper sites do have topic pages, but they are usually just lists of their own headlines and sometimes others’, intended to serve not only readers but Google’s search engine optimization. Those topic pages are still inadequate. I want a page, a site, a something that is created, curated, edited and discussed. It will include articles. But it’s also a blog that treats a topic as an ongoing and cumulative process of learning, digging, correcting, asking, answering.
 
It’s a wiki that keeps a snapshot of the latest knowledge and background. It’s an aggregator that provides curated and annotated links to experts, coverage from elsewhere, a mix of opinion and source material. Finally, it’s a discussion that doesn’t just blather but tries to add value. It’s collaborative and distributed and open but organized. Think of it as being inside a beat reporter’s head, while also sitting at a table with all the experts who inform that reporter. Everyone there can hear and answer questions asked from the rest of the room — and in front of them all are links to more and ever-better information.It’s not an article, a story, a section, a bureau, a paper, a show, a search engine. It’s something new. What do we call it? The topic table? The beat bliki (ouch)? The news brain? I don’t know. We’ll know what to call it when we see it.
 
Jeff Jarvis is professor of journalism at City University of New York and blogs at buzzmachine.com.

About alwayscola18

*Always be misunderstood. *Majored in business administration, but contributing to satisfaction of primary living needs. *Prefer to speak out, and enjoy silence. *A Mandarin speaker, but not a grand-China nationalist; a Hokkien dialect speaker, but not an aggressive grass-root activist; an English reader, but not negative to my homeland; a baby Christian, but not a confrontationist to the God of earth. *With personalities of patience, cleverness, discernment, toleration, self-confidence, and friendliness.
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