Whose Facts Matter

A Cautionary Tale

About This Project

August 15, 2017

Welcome. Thanks for taking a look at this work in progress.

This work arises out of a longstanding concern about the epistemology of journalism, particularly as it is becoming more automated and less transparent. We compose our narratives, develop our reporting routines, and even organize our newsrooms around assumptions about "news," "truth," "verification" and other seemingly neutral terms. And yet, the people who are engaged in the development of those tools seem disconnected from the scholarship about what those terms mean, and how we can best ensure that our innovations don't enshrine the evils that we deplore. For, as Michael Schudson put it:

“…[T]he power of the media lies not only (and not even primarily) in its power to declare things to be true, but in its power to provide the forms in which the declarations appear. News in a newspaper … has a relationship with the ‘real world,’ not only in content, but in form; that is, in the way the world is incorporated into unquestioned and unnoticed conventions of narration, and then transfigured, no longer a subject for discussion but a premise of any conversation at all.” (Lule)

My core argument is that understanding the epistemological biases of 20th-century "objective" journalism can help us think about potential blind spots in the practice of computational journalism. We can also draw upon the work of post-colonial theorists in technology and development to help us think about how to reinvent journalism practice in ways that avoid some of these blind spots. That argument is not yet fully elaborated here, but I hope that what is here will give you an idea of where I am trying to go. I also hope that you will feel motivated to share your thoughts.

I'm coding this as a nonfiction graphic narrative, as opposed to a text document, for several reasons. First, the audience I am trying to engage is growing accustomed to reading long Twitter threads, aggregated content using platforms such as Storify, and well as graphic narratives with increasingly serious content (see sites such as TheNib.com, and this Atlantic article on the growth of comics journalism.). I want to see whether I can draw that audience into a conversation that would normally be the province of academics. One place where I might use it is in my Press History and Race, Gender and News classes next spring if I make enough progress with it.

I am coding by hand rather than using a content management system because I didn't want the constraints that such a system would impose. Rather, I am trying to let the design be driven by my accumulated understanding of the needs of my audience and my emerging understanding of the rhetorical possibilities of the tools of comics journalism and social media. Henry Jenkins' thinking on spreadability and remixing, Ridolfo and DeVoss's essay on composing for recomposition are partial influences.

There are features that aren't fully functional here that I think will be helpful in the final version. First ,more of the speech bubbles will have code that link to the endnotes, giving you the full context of each quote. I also have to add image credits. Second, I have to shorten the clips of some of the YouTube videos. The method that used to work doesn't work any more. This is particularly important for the News Integrity and Dori Maynard videos in the Introduction. I am also thinking about embedding script to allow commenting and linking to each panel. For now, each page has the ability to comment via Facebook. I also want to incorporate code that makes it easy to get back to the page when you click on an external link. And of course, I will be revising to ensure that the broad argument coheres.

Esthetically, I want to improve the look and legibility of the slides with the survey data. I also am thinking about the balance of expository text, images, graphics, video, animations, etc. The goal, of course, is to use them to reinforce points,and to make the argument accessible. I also expect that I will be editing the language over time to make it more conversational.

My decision to share this as a work in progress is inspired by the work done by authors participating in the Institute for the Future of the Book, particularly Mackenzie Wark and Mitchell Stephens. I followed their projects closely while they were in progress, and have carried the possibilities in my head for years. Thanks again for taking the time to look around. Please feel free to leave comments and questions.

Finally, I must thank David Mindich, whose work I greatly admire, but also for organizing the panel, "Whose Facts Matter? Fake News and Contested Reality Over Time" at the 2017 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, where I shared the thinking behind this work. The slides from that presentation are below. I am also grateful to colleagues at The College of New Jersey who reviewed a very early draft of the first two sections of this project.

Wanted: An Inclusive Epistemology of Journalism from Kim Pearson
Kim Pearson


1. Lule Jack. Daily News, Eternal Stories, NY: Guildors Press. 2001. p. 32