The understanding business: why we need to get better at explaining the world

What is journalism all about?

There’s no shortage of theories, including this lovely one from G K Chesterton.

Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is Dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.

But I was taken by a quote from a writer on the American business magazine Fortune, in an interview with journalism.co.uk this week.

We aren’t in the news business; we’re in the understanding business

Admittedly, most of the reporters that I work with don’t have the luxury that Matthew Ingram enjoys – a role that mostly involves long-form writing and little in the way of a responsibility to do breaking news.

And yet there is a sense in which he’s right, particularly for our print products.

When a big story breaks, the regional media will usually rise to the occasion brilliantly.

There has rightly been praise, for instance for the way in which the Argus in Brighton and weekly papers such as the Shoreham Herald have managed to cover the air tragedy on their doorstep in such a comprehensive yet empathetic way.

On a less dramatic level, we do okay keeping up with council shenanigans, courts coverage and tales of human idiosyncracy – although we need to keep talking about the balance between office work and face-to-face reporting, and about the tension between the short-term needs of the web and the long-term needs of investigative journalism.

But how good are we at explaining the world to our readers?

How good are we at informed analysis?

How good are we at planning and coordinating our coverage so that we can proudly say ‘If you want to read one piece/spread/page/package on X, this is for you’?

The industry is making brave claims today that the regional media is a beacon of serious community journalism in a sea of listicles and generic celebrity content.

I wouldn’t quibble with that in broad brush terms, and indeed many of the new forms of storytelling such as top tens and ‘things we’ve learnt from this game’ are actually at the very heart of our mission to explain and enlighten.

But in a recent round of interviews with would-be sports journalists, one thing shone through.

Each was incredibly passionate, knowledgeable and opinionated about a club, a sport, or a campaign.

They needed no encouraging to share their views, insights and knowledge with their readers.

If we’re running news, features and sports desks properly, we have teams of experts around us.

We should be brave – and wise – enough to make greater use of them.

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One thought on “The understanding business: why we need to get better at explaining the world

  1. The web is for breaking news and listicles etc; print is for background, analysis and ‘explaining’. Both should work in tandem.

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