Posted by: structureofnews | June 28, 2011

Revelations

This is about semantics – and possibly obvious semantics – but semantics matter.  As for being obvious – well, as an industry we’ve certainly managed to miss enough obvious points to make the notion of what’s obvious debatable.

I’ve written before about how our thinking of ourselves as being in the “news” business can get in the way of  really understanding what we do; that a focus on the word “news” tends to concentrate our attention on immediate events and coverage rather than on the value of information over time.

It’s true we are in the “news” business in the sense that we’re supposed to be telling people things they don’t know – in other words, what’s “news to them.”  But that takes a broader meaning of the word that goes beyond “what’s happening.”  And that’s where we often confuse the two.  It would be great if we could use another word for what we do, but the problem is finding an acceptable substitute – after all, we’re not in the “media” industry per se, and the “information” business seems too broad.

But the other day I was listening to my colleague Mike Williams, now global enterprise editor for Thomson Reuters, explaining to a group of editors and reporters what he was looking for in big enterprise stories.

“What’s the “reveal” here?” he asked.

In other words, what gets revealed?  What information do readers get that they didn’t know – and needed to know – before they read the story?  What did the story have that wasn’t available elsewhere?

It’s a nice way of putting it – with “reveal” covering everything from uncovering previously-unknown facts to offering new ways of framing a topic to providing explanations of complex subjects.

Yes, all this does fall under “news,” but that word too often gets conflated with news events, and the associated emphasis on speed.  Speed matters, certainly, and especially in covering news events.  But focusing too much on that undercuts an equally-important part of our missing: Offering revelations.

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Responses

  1. What’s nice about focusing on the revelations is that it includes everything from a breaking news investigation to a CAR reporter’s effort to synthesize racial disparities over time in traffic stops for example, or in housing, etc. The reveal can come from many places, but it’s what the story is about.

    • Mike’s a smart editor. And of course, there is really no difference between “news” and “revelation” in many ways. But “news” is just one of those words that keeps confusing us.

  2. Contemporary revelations are found in viral takeoffs in the web’s social media. A true revelation today is rare mainly because the volume of information is so great. We live in a world of 140 character snippets that still needs wider analysis to reveal the full story. The trouble is the attention spans of the web reader or user as I prefer to call them is short sharp and often brutal.

    • I think there’s lots of room for true revelation – whether through uncovering facts that weren’t previously widely known or new analysis of masses of public information or just a new way of looking at known facts, or something else.

      And I hope readers/users have reasonable attention spans; readership of books is up, after all.

    • Despite of all the short-attention-span arguments, yet there are all sorts of experiments with long-form journalism #longreads, from Kindle Singles earlier this year http://goo.gl/P0w3B to Random House recently http://goo.gl/1RcRj Also, study shows that 140-characters inclusive of a url usually spreads wider. And social media can, if used properly, speed up the revelation process, with huge potential of crowd-sourced facts.


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