08 June 2007

Poynter Institute's Talking Points ... Discuss

Andy Cline:

The Poynter Institute faculty generated a list of talking points to help reporters create coverage plans for the presidential nominating process. There are 12 points, and I'll cover two per entry.
I want to add this to #1: What's my bias?

What if we envision the journalistic system as layers? On the bottom layer is the body of information produced by the world. It's a quantum world.

Journalists, the human ones, interact with this quantum world through a process such as observation and orientation (Boyd's OODA loop) that includes their cognitive biases and automatic thinking. It is perceptual, psychological and unavoidable in dealing with ambiguity and our sensory and intellectual limitations.

The next layer in our journalistic protocol stack, is where journalistic natural selection acts on this body of information. Done with Mirrors describes some of the process:
When I'm sitting at the wire desk as an editor, it's not much different. AP will move maybe 300 stories in a cycle. We also get stories from the New York Times and Cox wires. Some duplicate the AP coverage, some don't. All told, there may be 500 possible stories to go in the paper (in addition to the ones generated locally) on any given day. Maybe 30 of them will get in, and some of those only in very abbreviated form.

Not only do I chose which ones people read, I decide, or help decide, which ones ought to get more prominence than which other ones.

Along the way I'll choose maybe 6 photos to illustrate the day's news, out of maybe 250 images available since the last time we put out a paper, 24 hours ago.

And the AP editors, whom I never see or interact with, already have weeded through the news to choose those 300 stories, those 250 photos, through which I move like a cafeteria customer. They might have looked at 3,000 or 5,000 articles that were written in that day, and moved only a fraction of them on the wire.

And the photographers decided where to point their lenses .... You get the idea.
The structural biases characterize (to some degree) the natural selection process, or what influences it. I understand it as rhetoric, influenced by language and culture (noetic field). There is no such thing as a neutral language.

Above the natural selection layer is the presentation layer. The presentation layer is characterized by the infrastructural biases (TBD). The infrastructural biases are influenced by the medium used. It takes into account spatial and temporal constraints as well as framing (paper, radio, television, internet, ..., and newspapers vs. magazines, evening news hour vs. newsmagazine, broadcast networks vs. cable, blog vs. online journalism ..., front page vs. climatic teaser).

At this macro layer, the presentation layer, the cumulative effects can be visualized as a surface map which represents our mental map of reality and the distortions (peak and valleys) of the original body of information generated by the biases of the lower layers.

UPDATE: Blogging has its own infrastructural biases. For example, screen size/resolution and bandwidth. Those two impact web look & feel and content generally.

Then there are other less obvious ones - less obvious in terms of infrastructure or structural. For example, 3 column blogs vs. 2 column blogs. Comments or no. Trackbacks or no. Cosmos or no. Link (density) or no. Blogroll or no. Audio or no. Pics or no. Video or no.

Some of the above choices are analogous, I think, to the choices made by USA Today and the Wall Street Journal which are very different in appearance.

Storytelling is constrained by infrastructural and structural biases as well as strategic and definitory rules*. The web has a different set of infrastructural biases from print and broadcast journalism. This also allows for a different set of structural biases and expectations to develop. A different set of rules. A different narrative formula.

The web, and blogging as a form, is best defined by its bias toward read-write.

An Anthology of Journalism's Decline
Talking Points from the Institute, Part 2
Talking Points from the Institute, Part 3
Talking Points from the Institute, Part 4
Talking Points from the Institute, Part 5
Talking Points from the Institute, Part 6

1 comment:

W2JIG said...

My comment at Rhetorica related to this post:

Is teaching a “fear of mistakes” part of Teaching Done Right? If so, is a “fear of mistakes” a fear of violating a definitory or strategic rule of journalism? Is it a fear of measurement error or a fear of distortion by the infrastructural biases?