Journalism as a process, not an end

by Mathew on September 3, 2007 · 5 comments

Came across an interesting post by Dale Dougherty of MAKE magazine on the O’Reilly blog, in which he writes about how a blog post on the premature burning of the Burning Man was reported by Scott Beale of Laughing Squid on his blog. Dale details how Scott repeatedly updated his post, until it became much like an evolving news story.

More than one person has made the point that hardly anyone cares about whether some wooden structure in the desert built by a bunch of aging hippies was torched a few days early or not, and that is probably true. But Dale’s point is not the nature of the story itself, it’s the process that Scott used — frequent updates, complete with photos.

This isn’t really all that new. Wire services like Reuters and Bloomberg do this sort of thing all day long, filing updates to stories as new information comes in, correcting mistakes, etc. In most cases, newspaper journalists take all of this stuff and blend it into a story that gets published the next morning. But with the Web, there’s no need to pick an arbitrary moment in time and “publish” a supposedly comprehensive story — the story evolves over time.

We can see this kind of thing on some newspaper websites, including the Globe’s, when there is a breaking story — although too often we resort to the traditional story format. Other examples include the entries at Engadget and other blogs when they “live-blog” an event, and the entries at Wikipedia on breaking events, such as the recent highway collapse.

That, to my mind, is effectively real-time journalism, and newspapers should be doing more of it.

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