OK. Election’s over. The best guy won. We can get back to business. Or, in my case, get on with tricking out this blog and catching up! So, check out Steve Myers’ article, “FiveThirtyEight Combines Polls, Reporting and Baseball”, for a description of two model nujurno beat writers, Nate Silver and Sean Quinn of
FiveThirtyEight. (Also, another nice story at WWDMedia.) They know data, they use data, they provide analysis of data sources, and they know how campaigns work so well that they can ask questions that provide explicit understanding. That combo made FiveThirtyEight the go-to place for understanding the polls and how those polls related to what was happening on the ground.
They’re a great example of why the general assignment reporter is as useful in Webworld as blacksmiths were when cars replaced horses as the No. 1 method of transport. In addition to telling a good story, if jurnos don’t know what they’re talking about, if they don’t know how their beats work, if their reporting isn’t data-driven, and if they can’t analyze that data and explain its significance to their communities, well….what good are they?
Webworld requires that reporters be educated about and immersed in their beats, know who all the players are, be able to speak their language, and then cast developments in language that the least informed can understand, while offering enough depth that the most informed can rely on that reporter to provide accurate context.
In other words, it’s going to require a LOT more knowhow to be a reporter in Webworld.
Take crime reporting, for example. I’ll have a LOT more to say about it in a separate post, but for now, the punch line is: crime reporting is dead, dead, dead (pardon the pun) in Webworld.
In many news organizations the most inexperienced general assignment reporter is put on the cops beat. Once I began to understand what violence epidemiologists were finding out about how much emotional and economic damage violence does to a community, and how complex the solutions are to prevent and reduce violence, the fact that a news organizations puts its least experienced people on that beat struck me as, well, criminal.
Even in news organizations that have experienced crime beat reporters, most of their time is focused on violence in relation to cops and, sometimes, courts. So while their individual stories might be good, but they completely miss the forest. An example: over one three-month period, the San Jose Police Department reported 966 aggravated assaults. Santa Clara County, which has a very strong domestic violence prevention program and thus good data, knew that most of those assaults were domestic violence related. During that same time, the San Jose Mercury News did five stories about aggravated assaults, none of which were domestic violence related. Nobody in the greater San Jose community even knew there was a forest.
In Webworld, crime reporting changes to something so different that someday we’ll look back on these decades of reporters doing crime stories and regard them with the same tsk-tsk we regard people who once visited barbers to get a tooth pulled: it used to happen, but thank goodness we’re past that.
So what happens to the crime beat in Webworld?
First, it becomes the violence beat. Why? Because news folks report mostly about violent crimes, and rarely nonviolent crimes, such as check-kiting or embezzling.
Second, although we’ll still report the “big” story about the murder of a local celebrity and the occasional man-bites-dog incident, those events will fall into the “so-unusual-that-it’s-not-ever-gonna-happen-in -your-lifetime” category. Instead, we’ll focus on the most common violence, the violence that, in most communities, causes the most economic, emotional and long-term damage: the men who beat up their wives or significant others, the women who are being beaten, and the children who get caught in the middle. Don’t believe me? Check the numbers. It’s all about the data.
Third, we’ll be couching every story in a solution-oriented matrix, because in Webworld, it’s all about solutions and answers instead of pointing fingers and moving on. That doesn’t mean that jurnos will be offering fixes; it means that we will provide the community enough information on a regular ongoing basis so that its members can make informed decisions about the next steps to take to make things better.
Fourth, we’ll incorporate it into a health & safety site, because violence is a public health issue. Has been for a couple of decades. Cops and courts become parts of a much larger aggregation of people and organizations that have a hand in reducing violence: hospitals, schools, the business community (for jobs), emergency rooms, health clinics, physicians, social workers, public health departments, juvenile justice systems, welfare department, alcohol outlet regulators, city council members, mayors, shelters, crisis care nurseries, etc. We analyze all the data coming from these sources to see if they’re pulling their weight in meeting the community’s goals to reduce violence.
Crime’s just one beat. The same depth of understanding is required for business, work, gardening, transportation, environment, education, and slices of those beats. People used to describe journalism as being a mile wide and an inch deep. In Webworld, it’s an inch wide and a mile deep.