Megan Garber


Follow-up: The new journalistic value

I wanted to call your attention to an online conversation I’ve been participating in that I think is especially salient to the work of our Argo-bloggers.

A few years ago, I wrote a post called “The Attention Deficit: The need for timeless journalism.” The central idea/question of that post was this:

Journalism can now exist outside of time. The only reason we’re con­strained to promoting news on a minutely, hourly, daily or weekly basis is because we’ve inherited that notion from media that really do operate in fixed time cycles. But we now have the potential to signal importance on whatever scale you might imagine — the most important stories of the year, of the decade, of the moment.

What are the most important issues facing this community at this time? What would our sites look like if we asked ourselves that question? What would our journalism look like?

This week, Megan Garber of the Nieman Journalism Lab asked, “What if we had a news outlet exclusively focused on follow-up journalism?”

What if we had an outlet dedicated to continuity journalism — a news organization whose sole purpose was to follow up on stories whose sheer magnitude precludes them from ongoing treatment by our existing media outlets? What if we took thePolitiFact model — a niche outfit dedicated not to a particular topic or region, but to a particular practice — and applied it to following up on facts, rather than checking them? What if we had an outlet dedicated to reporting, aggregating, and analyzing stories that deserve our sustained attention — a team of reporters and researchers and analysts and engagement experts whose entire professional existence is focused on keeping those deserving stories alive in the world?

In the comments, I linked to my earlier post, causing Megan to follow up today with this:

In our current approach to news, ideas and connections and continuities — context, more generally — often become subsidiary to “now” itself. Newness trumps all, to occasionally devastating effect. There’s an economic reason for that, sure (the core of it being that audiences like nowness just as much as journalists). But we also now have tools that invite an intriguing possibility: new taxonomies of time. We have Twitter’s real-time news flow. We have Wikipedia’s wide-angle perspective. We have, above all, the web itself, a platform that’s proven extraordinarily good at balancing urgency with memory. We’d do well to make more of it — if for no other reason than the fact that, as Thompson puts it, “a journalism unfettered by time would align much more closely with timeless reality.”

And now I’ll give you one more quote from an article that wasn’t a part of this conversation at all. I think this particular quote is quite salient to this thread (and not just because – as you know – I’m an Ezra Klein fanboy):

Klein is explicit on this point, outlining a role for journalists that sounds as much like teaching as reporting. “I think that we as a profession need to become more comfortable with repetition,” he says. “What is newest is often not what is most helpful for readers.” A case in point: when explaining why legislation is bottled up in Congress, Klein routinely discusses the skyrocketing use of Senate filibusters—a recent and consequential change in the rules of politics that nonetheless doesn’t count as “news” on most days.

For now, I encourage you to read all four of these entries; I’m not going to expand on these posts too much. You’re probably beginning to get my point. But, in keeping with the theme, expect me to follow up on this.