Tuesday, June 22, 2010

La-Da-Di-Da, Ladies and Gents

The best thing that you're going to read today is Ezra Klein's very smart post about The News:
It's trite to say it, but the news business is biased toward, well, news. There are plenty of outlets that tell you what happened yesterday, but virtually no organizations that simply tell you what's going on. Keeping up on the news is easy, but getting a handle on an ongoing situation that you've not really been following is hard
And, even better than diagnosing a problem, he has a solution:
If I edited a major publication -- or even a medium-sized one -- I would begin each major legislative battle by detailing a few of my smartest, clearest writers to create a hyperlinked, fairly comprehensive, summary of the basic legislation. That summary would be kept updated throughout the process, and it would be linked in every single story written on the topic. As reader questions came in, and points of confusion arose, it would be expanded, so by the end, you'd have a document that was current, comprehensive, navigable and responsive to the questions people actually had about the legislation. 
Sounds good! 

This is obviously a case where internet-based publications can have an enormous advantage over the old-fashioned kind.  I think we're heading in that direction -- for example, recently a linked to the NYT promising 2010 cycle election site -- but of course that's electoral politics, not policy.  Still, if one goes to the main "Politics" page of the NYT or to the "Caucus" blog, one finds links to quite a bit of information about House, Senate, statehouse, and other elections (here's the main page for the House).  Go to the latest "At War" blog post, and there's basically nothing -- no information about how many troops are over there, the timeline, the casualties, nothing.

The NYT, WaPo -- they should each have a reference page for the banking bill, for the ACA and the stimulus (because policy-making doesn't stop after a bill is signed into law), for Iraq and for Afghanistan, and for climate/energy.  At least.   I don't know anything about costs and journalism, but I can't imagine that it would be enormously expensive to set up and maintain such a resource. 

So, I'm with Ezra Klein: the news is good, but it's not enough, not any more.


  1. It's true that news outlets do a poor job of providing detailed outlines of legislation. Last week, I wanted to know how the financial reform conference was going, and I couldn't fine much written on the specifics. So I watched C-Span instead - slightly more time consuming.

    But I think that the NYT does already have a platform for these issues, but it is not nearly as detailed as you suggest. The Times Topics platform archives all relevant articles on a topic; for the gulf oil spill the page is relatively detailed and even contains link to external news sources (on the right side of the page): http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/o/oil_spills/gulf_of_mexico_2010/index.html

    Transforming this resource a little bit with more detailed and real-time information wouldn't be that much a stretch for the Times.

  2. Jonathan, the Times did and probably still does have a great banking bill page, tracking the status of every proposed amendment. In fact, typing most things into the Times search engine yields "static" entries under "Times Topics" that -as Andrew Calkins notes above - archive relevant articles and go a ways toward the kind of not-so-news repository that Klein calls for.


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