Thinking about thinking about journalism

Kim Pearson’s “epistemology of journalism” essay,  How Journalism’s Changes are Changing Our Ways of Knowing, is not only thought-provoking in itself, it has a couple of great C-Span clips I hadn’t seen from Robert Krulwich, one of my favorite thinking-out-of-the-box storytellers. Go there!

(The clips are from a 1998 debate with John Seigenthaler, who also knows a thing or two about fact-checking and journalism. Alas, C-Span’s audio of the full debate has problems.)

Back to Pearson (with thanks to Mindy McAdams for pointing to her page):

“Of course teaching students to tell stories across platforms is essential, and so is understanding the impact of new technologies on business models. But we also have to research and teach about how these new tools affect the epistemology of journalism….

“It seems reasonable to ask how the changing tools of newsgathering, presentation and delivery affect the ways that we define, verify and prioritize verifiable facts. “

That thinking-about-thinking includes questions about multi-level fact-checking, technology, information sources and editorial decision making. For example, what do you do if your new high-tech Web-news application builds maps of neighborhood crime statistics, and the statistics themselves are faulty?

Pearson points to Adrian Holovaty’s discussion of faulty data and his attempts at a solution in the tools they use at

It reminds me of the old too-busy or too-lazy journalist (or blogger) shrug: “I can’t be sure what they said is true, but I’ll just truthfully report that they said it.”

The “they” in Holovaty’s case is a police database with geo-location codes. Having discovered its errors, he now has Everyblock double-checking before they stick their virtual colored pins in those online maps… as well as offering what he calls “data caveats.”

Holovaty‘s one of what is, I hope, a growing number of journalism-savvy computer programmers (or programming-savvy journalists), and he has had a lot to say about the subject, some technical, some more philosophical.

Pearson also points to a series of essays on programmers & journalists at PBS MediaShift by multi-talented freelancer Megan Taylor, who is now on my list of young writers to keep reading, including her own blog.

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.

Posted in Journalism, Multimedia

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