Monday, May 25, 2009

Intellectual Scoops

I was reading this past weekend a NYTimes piece on the Newsweek Magazine redesign and the struggles news magazines face in a fragmented media marketplace. No longer do we go to the weekly news magazines for breaking news, so the editor said the mag had to now focus on "intellectual scoops."

The phrase struck a cord.

Some call this "value added" journalism, the notion that breaking news is always out there and available -- and free -- so journalists need to focus on stories you won't find elsewhere, or stories with angles no one has considered, or scoops that tickle the brain and make you see something in a new light.

Journalism, meet Social Science.

Some journalists make a nice living scouring the world of social science for stories to tell (for example, see Blink by Malcolm Gladwell). As a practicing social scientist and former journalist (now j-prof) I straddle both worlds and in this blog I try to tie them together, but I firmly believe there are ways journalists can exploit the world of social science for those intellectual scoops that look at the world's problems in a new and interesting light, one likely to get an audience.

The key, of course, is to step away from the usual practice of "he said-she said" stenographic journalism.

The NYTimes does this better than any news organization. The problem for journalists is that many are ill-equipped to understand the arcane analysis found in most academic journals. As the writer of many arcane academic pieces destined to be read by an audience in the tens of people, I can say that they're written for a handful of experts and not a general audience.

Then again, journalism is often about taking the complex and making is less so. Journalists need to understand the tools and trends of social science (and hard sciences too) and make this stuff understandable. Not only that, but they need to be well read enough to make those terrific "intellectual scoops" that academics themselves miss because we are mired in theory and method, not often in real-world applications.

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