The news business has changed a lot in the last decade or two. First, there was the decline of newspapers and print journalism in favor of the internet. That came with the advent of the 24 hour news cycle. More recently, the creation of news sources that intentionally target particular audiences like Fox or MSNBC, and then the rising popularity of fact checking.
Today I saw the announcement for The Upshot, from the New York Times, and I wondered if this wasn’t a new direction. The goal, as described in the link:
We have two main reasons. One, we believe many people don’t understand the news as well as they would like. They want to grasp big, complicated stories — Obamacare, inequality, political campaigns, the real-estate and stock markets — so well that they can explain the whys and hows of those stories to their friends, relatives and colleagues.
I think with the fragmentation of the news, with it being reported by so many sources, each with challenges to its integrity and reliability, many people feel unsure of what to make of it. “Where should I get information from, can I trust it, what does it mean, what should I think of it?” Even if people aren’t consciously aware of these as questions they will run into challenges from others who disagree with everything from general philosophies to which sources are reliable to basic questions of fact.
I think The Upshot, as well as sites like Vox (which I have so far been impressed with), are trying to answer that question. The goal is to provide not only information, but context; to create a framework for the news to be understood in. Because news comes in smaller, more frequent pieces it doesn’t work as well to tell a story in a single article. Instead, these sites try to create a framework, so that each article is a piece of a larger story, and the more you read the better you understand the big picture.
I remember hearing a great deal of criticism of Fox News for blurring the lines between its news programs and opinion programs. I wonder if that won’t prove ironic as news sources intentionally blend journalism with editorial to give not only information, but understanding of the news. Because as much as I admire the journalistic standards of the past, they don’t seem to provide people with what they want. People don’t want the bare facts, they want context. They want a story that tells them what the facts mean, and how they fit into the world around them.