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It would begin with an overview of interesting metrics in other fields, how we can learn from those and how we can possibly apply them to journalism. After that groundwork is laid, there would be a moderated discussion among the participants of other examples and how we could best implement new metrics.
Some random thought about music theory and structure (namely, loops) floating around my mind led to an interesting discussion of music and code this weekend. The discussion was topped off quite nicely by a comment Zed Shaw wrote on Reddit about why being a musician can make you a good programmer.
Let’s say journalism — as a concept — is a software application. Software is a set of instructions that tells a computer what to do and how to do it. To make this comparison, I’ll use WordPress.
Journalism is a tool to be used, both by those who practice it and those who engage with it.
Journalism is inherently interdisciplinary, both in the subjects it covers and how those subjects are covered.
Journalism can applied to any subject, or theme. There are some basic themes you can start with and modify. Child themes can be derived from parent themes; for example, online learning as a child theme of education.
Journalism has core features. Research, reporting, verification, creation and more.
Journalism has more advanced functionality you could call plugins. These can improve the process or the product (here, meaning outcome). Analysis, visualization and feedback/participation mechanisms, for example. Sometimes that functionality gets incorporated into core.
The point is not to make an arbitrary comparison. And, yes, some of these comparisons are apples to oranges.
The point is to think more abstractly both about the concept of journalism and about journalism concepts. The basic ideas. The individual pieces. The fundamentals.
Journalism should be seen as a modular platform that we can customize, develop and improve.
Journalism is an open-source framework constantly in development.
No one owns journalism. No one controls journalism. Anyone can implement it. Anyone can fork it. Anyone can hack at its core.
What are you developing?
Update: I changed “practice” to “concept” in the first line. I think that’s more the frame I was looking for, as indicated by the 8th paragraph.
Before Isaac Newton, words like mass and force were general descriptors, as James Gleick writes in The Information:
“the new discipline of physics could not proceed until Isaac Newton appropriated words that were ancient and vague—force, mass, motion, and even time—and gave them new meanings. Newton made these terms into quantities, suitable for use in mathematical formulas.”
The term information was similarly amorphous until Claude Shannon, while working at Bell Labs, quantified the concept in bits.
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The journalism goals and business goals for news organizations are out of sync.
Pageviews. Unique visitors. Time on site.
Some journalism might be best quantified partly or wholly by one or more of those ways, but we need to explore deeper beyond these fairly simplistic metrics.
We know how these terms are defined, but what do they really mean? What do they help us achieve?
In creating a theory of information and quantifying information in bits, Shannon aimed to remove meaning. “Shannon had utterly abstracted the message from its physical details,” Gleick says.
For journalism, the goal should be to add more meaning to the information we use to measure our work. Granted, our current metrics aren’t meaningless. We use them because they do have meaning: views, comments, shares, etc. each has a meaning and can be measured based on that one-dimensional measure. The quantities of metrics increase because the works of journalism they describe are meaningful. Or, put another way, impactful.