Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson


17 comments posted · 1 followers · following 0

13 years ago @ - Why we're not cre... · 0 replies · +1 points

That's my bad, Patung. I had the wrong link in the post. It's, and it's very much alive and kicking.

13 years ago @ - Eulogy for news voice · 0 replies · +1 points

Let's say we differ on whether we prefer our journalists to provide "just-the-facts" or analysis, but that's not what I'm disagreeing with you on here, Terry. I'm completely agnostic on whether facts or analysis are wanted, or what constitutes what. My argument in this post is purely about presentation. Whether what we're presenting is primarily factual or analytical, I think presenting it in the stentorian, voice-of-God style that we've grown accustomed to is harmful.

The reason that, as you say, the second version I provided above is more "specific and factual" is because it does away with the view-from-nowhere presentational convention that the first attempts to mimic.

13 years ago @ - Eulogy for news voice · 0 replies · +1 points

Part of what I'm saying is that in Henry's case, he's not giving you the facts and helping you decide. He's giving you just as much analysis and interpretation as Cohn is and hiding it behind the veneer of news voice. Only, unlike Cohn, you have less material with which to assess that analysis. You have no idea how Henry came to his conclusions. You have at least some idea how Cohn came to his.

But I guess the Cohn/Henry case is askance of my main argument. In brief, I think this sentence...

A senior staffer for a Democratic Senator expressed concerns that Obama's health care reform plan was moving too quickly to accommodate the lengthy bipartisan negotiation process.

... is journalistically and narratively inferior to this one ...

I got an e-mail this afternoon from one of my regular sources, a senior staffer in a Democratic senator's office, saying he worries Obama's quick timeline on health reform is making it hard to bring Republicans on board.

13 years ago @ - Eulogy for news voice · 0 replies · +1 points

I'd disagree, Terry. First of all, you can do stenography journalism in any voice you'd like. Plenty of columnists function as glorified stenographers. Part of what I'm saying is that the convention of institutional voice has made it easier for hackish, stenographic journalism to pass muster alongside real blood-and-grits reporting, since both of them now get mushed into the person-less, "The Star Tribune has learned" style.

But the more important part of my argument is the contention that often, when effort is needed to discern what is factual, some analysis or interpretation is required to make that discernment, and it's best to acknowledge that in a transparent, human fashion. I think Atul Gawande's account of sitting down with a group of doctors in McAllen, TX, and probing them about the reasons for the high cost of care in their city was better -- as journalism and as narrative -- than attempting to convey that information in news voice:

I gave the doctors around the table a scenario. A forty-year-old woman comes in with chest pain after a fight with her husband. An EKG is normal. The chest pain goes away. She has no family history of heart disease. What did McAllen doctors do fifteen years ago?

Send her home, they said. Maybe get a stress test to confirm that there’s no issue, but even that might be overkill.

And today? Today, the cardiologist said, she would get a stress test, an echocardiogram, a mobile Holter monitor, and maybe even a cardiac catheterization.

You could say, "Doctors in McAllen, TX, said patients today are likely to receive a full battery of tests for symptoms that would have gone untested in the past." And you'd have conveyed much less, less effectively.

I guess a simpler way of expressing this is that "accurate, clear and complete descriptions of what's going on" often require a sense of the reporter's process and perspective that news voice can only obscure.

Take this graf from a less-than-helpful recent NYTimes story:

Democrats in Congress have grown increasingly nervous about the cost of health-care reform, estimated at $1 trillion over ten years. They also have expressed concerns that they would not be able to deliver a bill to Mr. Obama by August without rolling over issues raised by Republicans and ending the appearance of bipartisan legislation on a major policy issue.

Plenty of analysis and interpretation underpins this graf, and packing it all behind this "New York Times has learned" veneer only raises more questions than it answers. Why does reporter Derrick Henry think Democrats in Congress have grown increasingly nervous about the costs of reform? Does he think they were formerly cavalier about the cost of reform? Are there really people in Congress who thought we could overturn the health care system on the cheap?

Grafs like that no longer tell me anything. I'm unwilling to trust Mr. Henry's conclusions merely because they've been given the Times' imprimatur. Unleash him to tell me what lies behind his perceptions, and you'd probably be left with a clearer, more accurate, more complete report. Contrast this with Jon Cohn's perspective:

Obama had started the week by pushing Congress to get legislation done before its August recess. But several members of his party responded by saying, in some cases publicly, that Congress would need more time. Obama also spent the week saying, as he has all along, that health care reform must succeed in reducing the cost of medical care over the long run. But on Thursday, the head of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) testified that the legislation he’d seen so far wasn’t fulfilling that goal, prompting some more conservative Democrats to make public their own concerns along those lines.

The legislative process is like this--lots of ups and downs, often in rapid succession. Obama is right that we all get too caught up in the 24-hour news cycle. And in a quick canvassing of sources on Capitol Hill over the weekend, the responses weren’t as glum as I’d expected. “We will get there,” one senior staffer e-mailed me. “Always darkest just before a breakthrough.”

I have at least a sense of why Jonathan Cohn came to his conclusions. I know at least what he observed (Obama's speech, the push-back by members of Congress, the e-mail responses from his buddies on Capitol Hill) and how he perceives it. As far as I can tell, he did at least as much "reporting" as Derrick Henry (whose principal facts are quotes from the Sunday talk shows).

Cohn's post equips me with the tools I need to evaluate it. Henry's, stunted by the adherence to news voice, does not.

13 years ago @ - Eulogy for news voice · 0 replies · +1 points

Ooh, that's an interesting broadening of the lens, Tim. You're probably right - the weaknesses of the institutional voice convention are probably starting to pop up everywhere, not just in journalism.

13 years ago @ - The newsroom: where al... · 0 replies · +1 points

Don't worry, Howard, I didn't entirely forget to do some reporting. ☺ Before I wrote this post, I sent an e-mail to Mike Lupo, managing editor for News & Information at the AJC, to ask how it's going. I'll certainly let you know what I hear.

14 years ago @ - Does following the new... · 0 replies · +1 points

Thanks for the comment, Bill. My reply got so long I had to make it its own post.

14 years ago @ - Does following the new... · 0 replies · +1 points

I'd argue that I actually picked up a lot more reading these stories end-to-end than I would have otherwise. I was able to remember bits of earlier stories that the editors and reporters assembling this coverage had clearly forgotten all about. I'm convinced that if I'd been following these stories in real-time, I'd have even less of a clue what was really going on.

One thing that I might not have made clear is that I actually retained a lot doing it this way. I really do feel like it gave me a quasi-encyclopedic sense of obscure ordinances and minor City Council skirmishes. If I'd taken a drip-by-drip approach, it's not as though the blind alleys and dead ends I found would miraculously go away.

Plus, it's 366 pages, with a pretty manageable cast of characters. That's a sub-average novel. By this logic, the best way to read Pride and Prejudice would be the DailyLit approach. Which certainly has advantages, but I'm not sure better info retention is one of them.

14 years ago @ - The role of print · 0 replies · +1 points

Thanks for the clarification and addendum, Joel. ... message transmitted wirelessly through the cyberwebosphere.
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14 years ago @ - Inverting the business... · 0 replies · +1 points

I'm watching your experiment with great interest, Chuck.