At the crossroads of journalism and technology.

Lossy Compression

by The Crossjammer

Advances in computer technology are rapidly affecting every facet of our lives and how the news is reported is no different. However, since it is often argued that The News is crucial to the workings of a democratic society in yet another manner computers are challenging the underpinnings of our nation. While J.Net in general is focused on the interaction of journalism and technology, this particular editorial attempts to raise some questions about technology's affect on a reporter's daily life.

NEXIS: Frozen Concentrated News?

Here's a quote directly from the LEXIS/NEXIS web page:

The NEXIS service is a leading news and business information service which contains more than 7,100 sources, of which 3,700 provide their entire publications online. These include regional, national and international newspapers, news wires, magazines, trade journals and business publications.

The NEXIS service is the exclusive online archival source for The New York Times in the legal, business and other professional markets. The NEXIS service also offers several thousand other news sources including The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Business Week, Fortune, and The Economist. It is a one-stop service for both national network and regional television broadcast transcripts, in addition to carrying CNN and National Public Radio news and features. Major news services of China, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the U.K., the unified Russian republics and the United States are vital sources of international business information and news. In addition, the NEXIS service contains more than 2,000 sources of abstracts including The Wall Street Journal.

Is a "one-stop" service good for journalists? While reporters are supposed to be objective their reporting should at least reflect the bias of the community they live in, which is some of the attraction of having local reporters. Yet NEXIS makes it convenient for reporters to report the story or do their research. But just as fresh squeezed orange juice is tastier than frozen concentrate, isn't home brewed reporting better than one-stop newsbytes?

File, File, File

The time that reporters have to file stories is rapidly decreasing. Some reporters are being asked to file four times a day! This capability is enabled principally by cheap, widely available networks. But filing a story four times leads to increased pressure on the reporter. Pressure that can cause slippage in accuracy. Do we really need news that fast?

Just Drop Me an E-Mail

How does electronic mail augment or even replace traditional interviewing techniques? Is there a chance that e-mail could become more important than the phone in the reporter's life? Clearly, e-mail questions can be answered thoughtfully, completely,  and at the subject's convenience. Yet at the same time the spontanaeity of a face-to-face interview is lost.

Sources, Sources, Sources

A reporter once related to me how he had found some sources for a story he was working on regarding a technology company. He couldn't call the company directly and start asking for employee names as this would induce suspiscion in the company. So he simply went to World Wide Web search engine, searched on the company's name, and filtered out personal employee home pages from the yield. Instantaneously, he had generated 38 potential contacts which, from his tone of voice, I gathered was a bit better than cold calling.

On the flip side, technology is so complex and changes so rapidly that it is extremely difficult for a reporter to be even reasonably knowledgeable on a subject. Enter experts, consultants, public relations firms, and pundits to fill the void. A somewhat small exclusive club (if I had a nickel for every Esther Dyson quote), technology specialists are increasingly shaping the debate about technology.

More Dirt Faster

In that same vein though, what should we make of the Richard Jewell and OJ Simpson cases.? Clearly the advent of just in time reporting, vast easily searchable information stores, and the rapid dissemination of press releases have made it possible for journalists to have just as much information about a case as the cops. Yet the press is not constrained from wild speculation, proclaiming guilt even in the face of reasonable doubt, and even conducting their high/low quality investigations. (This idea is not mine but was cribbed from a thread on The Netizen).

Shut off the Hose!

The bottom line is that just as today their is more information at the average person's fingertips, so too is their more information for reporters to sift through and make sense of. And just as time is being compressed for many consumers, even moresis time being compressed for journalists. However, in the past we have held journalists to a higher standard, since they nominally filtered the news for us and protected us from disinformation. As The 'Net becomes more and more of a national resource, a reliable access point to information, and a profit center for businesses, this standard may no longer be achievable.