- Digital Resources
Explain Whole Systems Instead of Random Facts
Pattern number within this pattern set:903
R Y Shah
The Galatic Institute of Root Journalism
The problem with many news stories is that the reporter tends to assume far too often that the reader has been following the reporter's beat along with the reporter. (A beat is a journalism term that describes the type of stories that the reporter covers. Ex: sports, foreign policy, state politics, art and culture, etc.) Of course for a majority of readers, this is not the case. A typical reader has a job, a family, and other concerns to dedicate her time to aside from keeping abreast with the latest developments of a reporter's beat. So often I find it difficult to make my way through a news article without confronting a variety of questions that the writer assumes I already know the answers to. On top of that, the reporter will throw in random facts assuming I can put them into proper context concerning the subject matter of which I have nothing more than generalized knowledge about. The gravity of the situation that these facts attest to is lost due to my ignorance and the reporter's neglect to confront my ignorance. What does this lead to? Well, for many readers who find themselves in such a position, they grow frustrated at the inordinate difficulty in trying to understand what the hell is going on. They may also feel ashamed at not already knowing enough to tell what is going on, which - when you think about it - is absurd. Why read a newspaper that already assumes you know what is going on? From here many a reader disengage before they scream and tear the newspaper into tiny shreds. Thus the masses grow apathetic and uninformed. Business, politics, foreign policy and other important aspects of society become ever more distant and inaccessible. And journalism fails to do its job.
Journalism grows ever more elitist by ignoring its duties to educate the common man. A way to battle this is to introduce more pedantic elements into journalism. News people must remember that contemporary society grows increasingly complicated as bureaucratic substructures abound in almost every endeavor modern society offers. Reporters can no longer be mere messengers in a society where the masses are estranged from corporate and political echelons. Reporters must also be teachers and illustrate what the latest newsbreak means within the entire functioning system of their beat. This will require a radical renovation of the news.
Twenty years ago such a suggestion would be absurd. "Explain the latest developments in the context of the entire system?" A reporter would exclaim, "There's not enough room! I can't keep explaining the same thing, over and over, every single day!" Thankfully, these are the concerns of the print journalist, not his predecessor, the internet reporter (who has still to fully develop).
This is a perfectly valid suggestion against the backdrop of the internet. Let's say a news blog has released an article detailing a new contract between the US government and American contractor, Halliburton. Such an article will undoubtedly refer to some esoteric information that will stump anyone other than business executives and news junkies. With a simple click of the mouse, a befuddled reader could then be ushered to a page that would illustrate what this development means in the context of the whole system between contractors and the US government. Unlike newspapers, internet pages are infinite and (more or less) cheap.
Now the question is what would such a page look like? How could one explain entire systems of society to a reader who has almost no prior expertise? There are many ways to go about solving such a conundrum: the first would be to explain the system via text. But what are often undervalued in society are the skills required to explain complex systems simply and accurately to others: empathetic sensibilities bordering on ESP and complete comprehension of a subject matter. This skill set touches upon the core asset of good teaching. Many high-ranking academics (often professors at erudite universities) miserably fail to live up to this obligation themselves. But regardless of academia's problems, it's about time these principles were prized amongst journalists.
Ah, here we may encounter a dirty dirty secret: many journalists themselves do not know what is going on. It has almost become an industry standard to scan the internet and assemble one's article out of the disembodied parts of other articles, come Frankenstein. This shameful habit is almost an industry-wide practice. Don't believe me? Google a news story. Read the articles that pop up. Notice how mind-bogglingly redundant they all are. Rarely does anyone seek a different angle on a news story, let alone get different information from another relevant party. In fact, many quotes are the same en masse. As journalists grow increasingly lazier thanks to the internet and PR announcements, their collective knowledge grows weaker, their thoughts grow more dependent on others. Thinking and producing thoughtful work in the news industry looks reminiscent of mad cow disease: reporters eating and regurgitating the words of other reporters, who themselves have devoured and regurgitated the works of some public representative of the actual party. This pattern is a double edged sword, for not only does it seek to vanquish the reader's ever-mounting confusion, but it will undoubtedly rout out reporters who operate in partial or complete ignorance: the spores of mass confusion.
So, a reporter must be required to completely and thoroughly understand her beat. She is then required to explain the system as a pretext to her breaking story so that any reader, anywhere, will understand what the hell is happening. Not just businessmen, congress men, not just specific strata of society, everyone: housemaids, twelve-year olds, hippies, outdoor enthusiasts, former convicts, stay-at-home dads, artists, everyone.
The final benefit of this pattern is that the truth will be easier to discern from hype, spin and flagrant lies. How? Easy. Lies don't make sense. That's how we eventually know (other than a third party informing us) that we're being lied to. How do we tell the difference between a genius and a madman? The genius makes sense. Whatever explanatory system makes the most sense is the best candidate for the truth. There is nothing out there that can determine such a thing other than ourselves and our relationship to the truth. No matter where we stand in society, we all are tangent to larger operating systems that determine much of our lives. Systems of real estate development, agriculture, politics, and so on. We all have some first-hand knowledge of large newsworthy systems. That, combined with our intellect, is enough to suss out the truth. If someone can't explain to us how things interrelate simply and coherently, that's probably because they're full of shit.
Constructing news that attempts to place latest developments in the context of a large system should be an effective way to the cease the public's confusion over many issues and their resulting apathy because of it. Not only will the public be more informed, but news people will have more responsibility for the peoples' comprehension of the issues.