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articles, depth and threading


I started writing this intertwined within the previous post about blogs & fiction, but I quickly realized that it deserved a little more than a paragraph lost within another entry (diego solemnly tells the idea: you have been upgraded from "paragraph" to "entry", and you're free to go! There is much rejoicing in the world of ideas. Tearful goodbyes are exchanged and so on.) I was saying...

The interview I did for that article was probably half an hour or more, and having written articles before (although technical) I knew very well what would have to happen in the end. I think that Jim McClellan (reporter) did a good job given his space constraints, and he cared and was knowledgeable about the topic.

Now what I was thinking about was that no topics with any degree of depth can be properly discussed in one or two pages no matter how good you are and how much care you put into your writing; there just isn't space enough to do things justice.

This made me wonder about more complex and consequential matters, which also get alloted similar amounts of space, and it reminds me that when I see an article on which I know the background, I can make a different judgment, but what about articles where there can be no background because it is evolving news? Until time passes, there is no other source of information on what's going on aside from 1,500 word articles and 5-minute news clips. Overtime you get books, documentaries, etc, and more and more we've got weblogs to cover part of the picture. But the reality is that, for the most part, we're still subject to the vision provided us by those brief news items. And that's not enough.

I have a habit, which is to keep track of threads within newspapers and across them. I don't do this formally (not that obsessive :)) but I do it. So what I was thinking was whether this idea of reading of "trails" of news on given topics is something that could be formalized in some way, and what would be the requirements. In true blog fashion, and since I have to get other things done, I will simply ask a bunch of questions, provide few if any answers, and then cart off riding my faithful donkey into the sunset, with my extra large sombrero, laptop in one hand, bottle of tequila--worm and all--in the other, under the fading desert sun.

A-aanyway.

Well, someone might say, newspapers themselves do this. Or News.com does it (With their "big picture" feature). Or RSS search aggregates some of this... Feedster's feedpapers come to mind... but that's not what I mean, although Feedpapers come close in some respects.

And that's not what I mean because both the current "news cycle" and search place importance on recency. And recency stresses what is shocking. (Because the more shocking something is, the bigger the chance of it being noticed when there's a sea of new information that comes in every day).

There are two problems here, one is that of following a thread across time, in a given medium (eg., newspapers) and even across different media, and focus only on it to be able to go beyond the soundbite-dependent world in which we live in.

The second problem is that, structurally, writing something that can exist both as a unit and as a part of a larger whole is, well, complicated. That's why "series" of articles are made explicit. Maybe now that media is merging in different ways and you can actually use digital to expose its underlying continuum, it will (should?) become more common practice to serialize works.

If both were done regularly, we could combine the technology with the writing style (yes, some of these ideas echo in what I've tried to do with plan b as far as creating a structure that can be coherent both through linear and hypertextual paths, and that is also "episodic"). I naturally gravitate towards thinking of the technology required, but this is as much a question of technology (which is largely there already) as it is of writing style and how we are used to receiving our information. And weblogs have a role to play there, I think...

...and off riding into the sunset I go. :)

Categories: writing
Posted by diego on April 8 2004 at 2:25 PM

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