A Journal of the Irrepressible

Archive for the ‘social media’ Category

Narrative Is a Conflict Engine

leave a comment

Dan o’ Xark! has an interesting piece on narrative journalism and its evolution. I’ve commented on Dan’s thinking before and admire his intellectual creativity and restlessness.

What he’s up to in this piece is arguing for an end (or at least an alternative) to long-form narrative journalism in favor of…. something else.

Journalism schools have taught view-from-nowhere, AP Style-compliant, mass-media-voice long-form feature writing for decades, and readers just aren’t interested. Educating another generation of students to file 75-inch profiles of local United Way executives, written for the annual press contest judges who determine next-year’s promotions, just isn’t much of an answer to the market-side questions that demand our attention.

True enough. But the really interesting point he makes comes a bit further down:

Classic narrative follows a subject through a conflict to a resolution. And if our primary means of understanding something as complex as global warming is just a series of narratives about conflict, then we’re not going to make much progress. This is one reason why American mainstream news organizations kept emphasizing critics of global warming, even though the most credible peer-reviewed studies favored the anthropogenic warming theory championed by Al Gore…. We didn’t need better narrative journalism about global warming, we needed less of it. We needed a way of communicating that encouraged the evaluation of facts instead of the balancing of rhetoric. It’s a shift that requires a radically different theory of the press.

It’s difficult to see how a “different theory of the press” is going to change something that has nothing, really, to do with the press and everything to do with cognition. You can present things in ways that encourage an evaluation of facts (e.g., charts and graphs or, as Dan suggests by way of example, box scores), but we’re still going to contextualize those facts by way of a conflict-driven narrative.

If the facts don’t move us, we don’t care. And in order to be moved, in order for facts to move, they must in some way, an engine-like way, face resistance. We need to at least imagine counterfactuals: I’m not here, I’m there, in that person’s shoes.

So Dan’s example of the critics of global warming getting face time in the media makes sense. If you want to do something about it, start by reporting from the critics’ point of view: the climate isn’t changing, you report, and then give many column inches to the critics of that view.

Dan argues that, without box scores,

how many at-bats would never have been recorded for future historians because they didn’t fit into the narrative the writer picked as he hammered out a story on deadline?

Fair enough. But those historians will do nothing with that information without first recontextualizing it as conflict-driven narrative. Indeed, lovers of baseball routinely recontextualize box scores, mentally pitting pitcher against batter and so on.

It’s not journalism that needs to evolve to address your concerns, Dan; it’s the human brain that must change.

  • Share/Bookmark

Written by Brian

October 30th, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Are You Ready for the Wave?

leave a comment

You’ve no doubt heard about “social media” and perhaps about how frivolous it seemingly is, what with Facebook and Twitter and internet addiction and all.

But all along there have been serious uses for social media, as the top blogs and wikis prove. And with the “track changes”-like annotation tools in YouTube and SoundWave, videographers and musicians can get feedback on drafts of their projects in ways that were, up to now, impossible.

I’m predicting social media is about to get truly serious, truly useful, and enabling of collaboration in as yet undiscovered ways. That’s because Google is about to enter the fray.

They’ve got what I think will be a killer social media ap, called Wave. On the surface, it’s just another way of doing email. But it isn’t email at all, at least not in the one-to-one or one-to-many way we think of it now. A Wave allows contributors to add new and edit existing content in real time. A Wave can be private and one to one, it can be private within a group, or a Wave can be posted to a blog and opened to the public.

Wave is in beta right now and probably won’t see a public release for at least a few months. But for some initial thoughts on how it might be used in research, check out this article about using Wave to, first, collaborate on a paper and, two, its use as a laboratory recording tool.

  • Share/Bookmark

Written by Brian

October 8th, 2009 at 8:41 am

Posted in science, social media

Tagged with