Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Just the Facts, M'am

In the current old media vs. new media knock-down drag-out battle for attention from subscribers and advertisers, outlets for print journalism have begun to follow what might appear to be a counterintuitive strategy for survival.

The conventional wisdom says that web news counts on traditional reporting to provide facts derived from their investigative coverage. In this way, the virtual news can count on eventually controlling the profitable sector of aggregation and commentary without the expense of shoe-leather on-the-ground journalism. This parasitic relationship was described by Frontline earlier this year in a PBS television special on "What's Happening in the News."

However, National Public Radio's David Folkenflik describes another kind of media ecosystem in "As Media Multiply, So Do 'Conceptual Scoops,'" in which newspapers leave the facts to others and instead pursue what's now being called the "conceptual scoop." Malcolm Gladwell has also written about the importance of these "Open Secrets," when analyzing and data can be more important than acquiring it. For example, Folkenflik points to coverage of signing statements, as an example of a policy story that requires critical thinking, close reading, and an ability to work with what Lev Manovich calls "big data." Folkenflik also describes how The Wall Street Journal earned a Pulitzer Prize by spending its energies designing a software program rather than interviewing informants to reveal fraud in corporate stock options.

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