Below the radar

Yesterday evening I went to an inaugural lecture by George Brock, Professor of Journalism at City University. Some 25 years ago, George was my boss at The Times, on the Oped page, and there were a few familiar faces in the crowd from our cohort. But his talk (and now ongoing blog) charted how much things have changed since then, in all forms of public life. The old model doesn’t work any more, but what will take its place?

Brock noted the experimentation going on “below the radar”, in which local reporting efforts are boosted by central editorial support. One example was Pits and Pots, an independent news and discussion site in the old mining and potteries areas around Stoke-on-Trent. Another, in the Czech Republic, was a chain of coffee shops that doubled up as newsrooms, run by the media division of the insurance group PPF, producing an editionalised ‘hyperlocal weekly’ called Nase adresa (“our address”).

Journalism would only justify itself as a specialist service, he argued, if it offered original, trustworthy material that helped make sense of the world; and that involves risk-taking and the exercise of judgment: “None of these things can be done by algorithm.”

He didn’t labour the link with editing, but for these experiments to work, central editorial support is essential, not just nice-to-have. It is editing that can imagine and identify discoveries; it is editing that gives them more impact. Editing is nothing if not the exercise of judgment. Brock knows from his own long experience what happens behind the scenes, the huge difference that what I call acts of editing can make to the value of a communication. The difficulty is, how to make editing more visible and therefore more valued by others? Or at least, how to provoke the suspicion in people’s minds that perhaps there is something they do not know about what happens to a text after it is ‘finished’; to know at last what they don’t know, about editing?

Many hats, many methods?

Quite a  lot of people on this blog refer to wearing “many hats”. I identify with that.

If we do different things, do we also use different methods? I find myself wondering, what does everyone out there consider to be the main methodology that you use for your work? Or at least, the bit of work that is most central to Digital Humanities? What name does it have? If you use more than one, why is that so? I’d be fascinated to hear what people think.

Also, in the classroom, how would you answer the question: “What is a text?”