Towards Better Democracy

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Is Fast Food Style New Journalism Hazardous to Your Health?

The continued eating of fast food notoriously creates health problems. Here is a rather old report from the National Institutes of Health in the US:  Eating at Fast-food Restaurants More than Twice Per Week is Associated with Weight Gain.

Why do I mention fast food? Because I am going to suggest that the new journalism is the journalistic equivalent of fast food. Before we do so, allow me to digress for a moment.

In preparing for the present article, look at what I found. Wikileaks? More like Wikihole. At the present rate of digging we shall reach New Zealand around noon. Those of you who have been following my Wikileak posts will know that I have been pursuing the question of who Wikileaks gave access to in advance of the general release date of the Iraqi War Logs. I was researching the present article and did not expect to uncover more on the Wikileaks story.

You will see from the title of the following piece from Télé what I was actually looking for, and we will get to that later:

How OWNI and the French Helped Wikileaks Run the Iraqi War Logs.

In the paragraph after the introduction we have this sentence: “A dozen newspapers on five continents (including Le Monde), who received a preview of these documents, published excerpts.”

The French journalist’s (Antoine Mairé)  math is impressive. Beats the “several newspapers” of the English language sources I have explored so far. But I am missing three continents. Later in the article Mairé refers to the famous twelve again: “…and for the more traditional outets, the twelve newspapers, as previously mentioned, …”

A quick search of two of the usual suspects was conducted. A search of the site of the newspaper Japan Times reveals only the standard stories carried elsewhere at the final release of the Iraqi War Logs (October 22-23, 2010). The Times of India also does not appear to be one of the twelve. Its announcement of the release is a wireline report.

WikiLeaks releases 400,000 Iraq war logs, AP, Oct 23, 2010, 09.56am IST.

The report of the newspapers given prior access to the Iraqi War Logs is the same as we have seen elsewhere: “WikiLeaks said it provided unredacted versions of the reports weeks ahead of time to several news organizations, including the New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian and Der Spiegel. It gave The Associated Press and several other news organizations access to a searchable, redacted database hours before its general release on Friday.”

To return to our main topic, there are a number of ways to refer to the kind of journalism I am speaking of: new journalism, online journalism, digital journalism. I want to contrast the new journalism with the old.

The new journalism has a distinct style which can be readily seen in the example from the BBC (The lead US story 11/19/2010  from the BBC website).

The story has an introductory paragraph which summarizes the whole story.  The story is then expanded in single sentences, each on a line of its own.

Each sentence is standalone. That is to say, the reader can break off at any point. Each sentence is a topic sentence and no subsequent sentence expands on a previous sentence. The story is told through essentially a series of bulleted item points.

Contrast this with a traditional newspaper’s, even in its online presence, handling of a story (Lead story 11/19/2010 from the New York Times online edition ). The differences are pronounced.

There is no story summary by way of introduction. Instead the story is properly introduced in the opening paragraph. The story is fully developed in a series of six or seven paragraphs, or more. Subsequent paragraphs have topic sentences followed by sentences which then expand on the topic.

Notice that the BBC web page is designed to fit into a single view on the computer screen. The NYT article. despite being on the web requires a scroll down to view the lower half of the story. The story is then continued on a second page, which in turn requires a scroll down to complete the reading of the article.  The NYT is aware of the posibilities of the web, since a sidebar multimediaon the story is offered.

My contention is this: just as fast food is dangerous for the body, is the new fast food journalism dangerous for the mind? Just as fast food may lead to overweight or fat bodies, will fast food journalism lead to skinny minds, to an inability to develop ideas.

The problem with the single sentence paragraph is that ideas are not developed. Context is lacking and background is reduced to a simple statement.

The new journalism reports in terms of sketches. Traditional journalism gives a fuller more developed picture. Often, in the traditional sources, there will be analysis and comment on particular stories so that  the impact of the story can be more thoughtfully be developed. The new journalism is totally lacking in these.

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