I’m new to reading the newspaper. I’m new to watching the news on TV. I’m new to The Daily Show and periodicals. I’m particularly new to business news. We don’t get any of the business oriented newspapers at my house, and I wouldn’t even look at the front page of the business section of the New York Times, because I was positive, as someone who has the privilege to dismiss the value of money, that the economy was full of statistics and lies and other unpleasant things. (I’m not entirely sure that assessment was wrong, however…)
At the beginning of this semester I was pulling up random blogs on WordPress and came across the placeholder for Atlantic publishing’s new online, business publication: Quartz. They had a very interesting philosophy for how journalism, namely business journalism, should change to keep up with the times, and how the online format provided the best way to support this change.
I see now, as I go looking for that place-holder description that it no longer exists as I first read it, but pieces of it can be found spread between their various subheadings to their “About” section:
Mainly they have an idea they call their “obsessions”:
Journalists in most news organizations have fixed “beats”: bond markets, personal technology, international trade, and so on. At Quartz we organize ourselves around the seismic shifts that are changing the shape of the global economy. We call these topics our “obsessions”.
As you’re surfing the Quartz website, at the bottom of half the articles there is the option of seeing other articles within the same “obsession” – at the end of an article about Chinese online responses to the presidential debates, you can click on a link and get stories related to the presidential debates. Or you can find out more about “Digital money” – and read all about the various motions towards paying for things with your cellphone, etc.
It makes a lot of sense, in a way. On just about every blogging platform there exists the idea of “tags”. If you blog about your life you’ll have tags for school, work, kids, significant others, tv shows, etc. If you blog about politics you’ll have tags for serious posts, humor posts, frequently posted about politicians, pundits, journalists, and publications, just to name a few. The idea of the news, online, being organized differently seems to defeat the entire purpose of that which makes the internet so wonderful: the hyperlink.
We’ve all wasted time on Wikipedia starting on one article and clicking our way through the links in it, whenever we encounter something interesting or alien. The online edition of the NYTimes is no real different: if they mention a movie they’ve already reviewed in an article, clicking the title will send you straight to that previous review. But the NYTimes doesn’t have a tagging system. To be fair, neither does Quartz.
But they seem to have taken a step in the right direction: the internet is the future of connectivity. We think of it always in terms of people, but the same can be applied to information. To return to my earlier mention of Wikipedia, there is a not-particularly-politically-correct game that people will sometimes play using the hyperlink feature of Wikipedia: you click “Random Article” and in five hyperlink clicks or fewer, you have to get to the article about Adolf Hitler. In this way it’s possible to connect chloroplasts, towns in New Jersey, or just about anything else, to Hitler. But the real lesson of this game is that the internet has the ability to shape connections between any topic. That can be dangerous, because the ability to make connections between disparate ideas is incredibly powerful. (Most genocides are committed on the drawing of unrelated topics together.) But on the other hand, most incidents are not isolated.
We’ve learned that the hard news story gives you the most important information first, followed by greater detail, then finally the background information to fill out your understanding of why these facts are important. Maybe it’s time to start adding another part to that structure, in online news, maybe after the background, there’s a section of “further reading,” an even more complete way to understand what’s going on: other articles, tags, after all, the news already gets hashtagged on Twitter. Maybe it’s time to take the idea more seriously.
(Here’s a blog post from Quartz editor Gideon Lichfield, about the guiding ideas behind the publication.)
And that’s how I got drawn into reading business news.