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.