Friday, September 23, 2005

The Intelligence Briefing model of journalism

Posted today at PressThink in reference to discussion on the NYT's Times Select paywall:

What's valuable today? Information that comes with a high degree of confidence and carries predictive power.

What's parsley? Politicized opinion, infotainment, stenographic reporting and "analysis" of the obvious.

I think we are in the middle of a paradigm shift that will divide information and commentary into two basic categories: 1. Basic, "unwarranteed" communication, which will continue to be too cheap to meter; 2. Value-added information, which will abandon our Old School value of "fairness" for a model based on the daily intelligence briefing.

When we talk about "objectivity," we tend to talk about its limits. We don't tend to talk about its value. When we talk about commentary, we talk about its slant. We don't tend to talk about its perceptiveness. Our current frame of reference is a newspaper/broadcast model that is based on certain assumptions about "gatekeeper functions," "credibility," "balance," and the mass audience.

When you adopt an intelligence agency perspective, the information gatherer and the information analyst are working for a specific end user, not a general, passive audience.

This is a radically different relationship. Your loyalty is to your subscriber, not to your sources, not to your political friends. Your value -- your continued employment, for that matter -- is attached to the quality and utility of your information and your insights.

People will pay for such content, and the networked media makes it possible for more people to access such services. These are, ultimately, the "editors" described in the EPIC 2014 animation.

Will people pay for Times Select? Not unless it has this function.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Getting ahead of disaster

The problem with a disaster like Katrina is that it is literally too large and too profound for the average person to wrap their brain around. Consequently, the media now resembles a bunch of blind men describing an elephant, only we're doing it around the clock.

Making matters worse, in our rush to catch up with events, in our need to provide "hurricane porn" 24/7, we've overlooked another important part of our job as journalists: Probing for meaning.

The unplugging of New Orleans from the American economy -- and the absorption of at least half a million long-term refugees -- promises to be one of the most transformative events of the early 21st century. The implications of this mind-boggling task will affect every American in hundreds of ways, large and small.

If there was ever a time for a disaster wiki ... if there was ever a call for the smartest people in the country to get in communication and start comparing notes ... this might be it.

When considered in the light of an American moment that was already feeling rather precarious, the ongoing disaster in the Gulf represents an enormous threat to our way of life. Traditions, institutions, relationships and expectations that made perfect sense on Sunday are now either history or utterly unsure. And we're not thinking about them.

A year from now, we will look back at these days and say "If we had only thought of X."

It's our job as journalists to start thinking about X today. And one way to do that is to start asking everyone we know -- and many people we don't -- "What might X be?"

P.S.: Here's the e-mail I just sent out to about 90 people, many of them local, many of them spread out across around the country:
Dear all:

I am casting as wide a net as I can today, trying to get as many thoughtful responses as I can to this question:

"Regarding the long-term flooding of New Orleans, what so-far unpublicized secondary effects are likely to have the most profound, transformative and currently unanticipated effect on the nation as a whole?"

Some secondary effects, such as the rising cost of gasoline, are getting lots of attention. Others, like the destruction of the Gulf Coast shrimp fishery, have yet to be examined. I am interested in what people with different perspectives and insights would foresee as important issues affecting us all that we have yet to consider in the wake of this disaster.

I hope to combine the best and most thought-provoking responses into a piece to run in (my newspaper) in Charleston, S.C.

If you have a thought that you wish to share, I will be greatly appreciative. If you have any friends or colleagues that you think might offer an interesting response to this, please consider passing it on to them.

Thank you,

Daniel Conover