Saturday, 2 June 2012

Journalism aspiration matrix

This is just a doodle I drew a couple of weeks ago when I was thinking about what it means to be a journalist. It conveys ideas about the effort required to do a story and the importance of that story in the larger scheme of things. If you have any comments to add to a discussion, please add them at the end of this post.

The diagram above takes as its point of departure the work that a journalist does. You need to find sources who can talk on the record about a topic, and you need to angle your topic so that it either fits snugly into the current news landscape or else angle it so that it is more future-facing. In either case there will be some sort of topical hook, which usually comes at the start of the story. The diagram above is designed to illustrate the nature of work involved in producing news stories. The diagram below, from a person on Twitter, is looking at how public information can be schematised to include all of its forms.

This is a view of public information that incorporates fiction as well as news. There are of course some examples of fiction that are based on fact, such as All That I Am by Anna Funder. But in general fiction can only be plausible even though it might contain some elements of truth, even though they may be very accurate ones. This person is working through her own ideas about the nature of public information which are very different from mine. In my view, the horizontal axis shown in the diagram here would be labelled 'plausible' (on the right) and 'true' (on the left). Fiction essentially flatters the reader by flirting around the edges of what is commonly known. If you go too fast you lose the reader's interest. If you go too slow you also lose the reader's interest because he or she gets bored. News stories operate in the same way but they also remain grounded in fact where fiction can improvise in a plausible manner to achieve its goals. The truism in journalism school is that journalism is the first draft of history. Whether fact can ever be based on fiction is a question that psychologists and statisticians would have to answer. It is not for me to say.

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