An important, and increasingly ignored, part of the journalistic process is connect-the-dots. Two connected developments of recent times came together to make this model extinct: 1. The need for speed and, 2. Depleting newsroom resources that resulted in the extinction of the beat journalist.
Because there is a premium on putting up a “story” within minutes of something happening, the newsroom no longer has the time to think, to find patterns, to look for context and backstory and nuance. And because the beat journalist — a reporter whose primary task is to focus on one theme and develop expertise in it — no longer exists, there is within the newsroom no specialized knowledge on tap.
Collectively, these two factors create a situation where much of reportage is akin to skipping a stone across a lake — the story skims the surface, and when it runs out of steam it dies, without ever penetrating beneath the top layer. Connect-the-dots journalism is important, though, because it helps to identify and distinguish patterns, to explore how a contemporary event fits into a larger whole.
Earlier this year, the Hindustan Times introduced a ‘hate tracker‘. It’s a good example of using technology to aid research-based journalism; it collects incidents of hate crime from around the country and displays them by location, by name of victim, by date. Spend some time with it and see what patterns you spot.
A note in passing: Aparisim ‘Bobby’ Ghosh, formerly Time magazine’s World Editor and then head of Quartz, who was hired as editor in chief by the Hindustan Times about 18 months ago and who, during his tenure, has been responsible for HT investing in the newer forms of journalism, has ‘resigned’ for “personal reasons”.
PostScript: I’m off the blog for about ten days, during which I will be traveling in parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala on some personal work. I’ll be back on Sunday September 24. Be well, all.