Jeff Jarvis on Topics instead of Articles

posted Oct 06, 2008
in Iron Lute

This article on the importance of bringing a topic focus to the news is very important. The thesis is that the article-by-article nature of modern news is incapable of covering issues on any but the most trivial of levels, since every (short) article needs to start from scratch.

If you've felt like the news media can't ever seem to get past the first couple of days of Econ 101 (or other equivalent topics), this is why. They are structurally incapable of it.

My BlogBooks are also an attempt to address this. Weblogs have the advantage of being able to use links, but it is still hard to build up coverage, and still easy to say the same things over and over again. Since I really hate to do that, my posting frequency has tended to drop off. (One only has so many truly new blog entries in them.)

(Oh, and while I chose not to talk about it here since it's not really the focus of this site, the recent birth of my son leaves less useful time for such things. But that's only a recent change, I've had low posting frequency for a while.)

The BlogBooks are acceptable for me (and I hope to get back to them someday, I have a lot of stuff written but it needs the final editing pass), but in general they won't work for media organizations. They need something more like a hybrid Wiki approach. I've seen people try to implement hybrid Wiki/Blogs, built because of this need, but I'm yet to see one that I feel was used to actually build up coverage in the manner we're looking for. You need more than just making the Wiki technology available; somehow we've got to make it easy to build up progressions of posts into a coherent whole, and there are some fundamental contradictions between a post/article and the sort of coherent whole we're looking for.

Under the hood, I've actually done some work with my BlogBooks that make it possible for a book entry to have its own header and footer, so that the weblog manifestation of the entry can actually be slightly different than the BlogBook manifestation, but that is definitely not adequate.

Now that I type this up, I've actually got some ideas based on some of the Iron Lute work I've been doing recently, but they aren't well-formed enough to post here. I was going to segue from the preceding paragraph into a claim that it may not really be possible, but maybe it is. But not with the current way we deal with text; without a richer conception of text, the fundamental incompatibility between an "article" and "topic" are going to be hard to overcome.


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