August 20, 2007

Hoyt Chimes in on the Whole Context Thing

Clark Hoyt has the right idea:

But there are special lengths that The Times–or any other news organization–must go to when dealing with an issue so protracted, so complicated, and so politicized. It must take pains when reporting today’s events to add yesterday’s perspective. It must attribute information exhaustively to keep sources’ credibility and motives in view. And it must be willing to revisit old ground when new developments change the context.

But how can this be accomplished along with everything else journalists must do?

How about this: Get rid of some of the fluff and nonsense. Free up space (and thus the time) to allow journalists to provide the context that helps the news make sense (the thing print can do well and television has a very difficult time doing). Otherwise, the news is merely an information dump of little socio-political utility (which is a fancy way of saying such journalism fails to meet its primary purpose, which is: give citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing).  

Let’s review Neil Postman’s articulation of information theory:

Information: Statements about facts in the world.
Knowledge: Organized information embedded in a context.
Wisdom: The capacity to know what body of knowledge is relevant to the solution of significant problems.

Information is foundational to knowledge and wisdom, but it is of little use by itself. Journalism, to be any good at all, to be of any use at all, must be a knowledge practice.

What would a newspaper look like if we cut out stuff that is mere information–especially information about stuff that hardly matters to helping people make the world work? Would people read such a newspaper? Hmmmmm… it’s for sure that fewer and fewer are reading what’s now offered.


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