Saturday, April 17, 2010

This Just In! Pencil Helps Journalist Win Pulitzer!

Folks over at The Next Web are just ecstatic that a Seattle Times journalist who uses Google Wave won a Pulitzer Prize -- and insist that the reporter's delving into social media via Google Wave is what clinched it. Forget that there was actual leather-to-the-ground reporting going on here, meeting face-to-face with sources and writing, writing, editing and more writing going on as well. It's Google Wave. It's Awesome!

So we come to the argument -- it is the journalist or the tools he or she uses that make for good reporting?

Hands down, it's the journalist.

A journalist worth his or her salt (and when I was one, I was not worth mine) will find the information needed for a story using whatever tools are available. That Google Wave was a tool used in the Seattle Times' story is significant, but it's hardly an award-clincher.

I've got to confess even after reading what the Next Web has to say on the subject, coupled with what the Times wrote (on a Google Wave blog) about their success, I'm a little hazy on how Google Wave actually helped. Read the stuff and see if you can help me out here. Here's an excerpt from the Times' blog post:
Some elements of the wave included links to police scanner audio, live video, information about road closures, school lockdowns, suspect information and more. A manhunt map was created inside the wave and updated by participants. And a map was linked inside the wave that then used on the site. It was useful to producers updating the site because they could put information out and get tips back, instantly. We then could pass the tips on to the Metro desk and follow along that way. It was like using Twitter with a real-time response and rich content.
See, I just don't get it. All this data is nifty and amazing and it's awesome that non-journos were helping put it together, but it still comes down to the journalists and editors to sort through all the data and to write a compelling story. I can see that with the wave, they had one-stop shopping for information, but it's all got to be confirmed, weighed for importance and then integrated into the story, once it's decided whether it's significant or not. The same thing could be accomplished with a whiteboard or a piece of paper and a pencil, or am I missing something?

Oh yeah, the social aspect of it all. Which,when you get right down to it, doesn't really do much to help write the story. I know it helped in real-time reporting, web-updating and other reporting elements. But you don't see the phone company (or the newspaper) trumpeting how the use of telephones helped report the story and provide up-to-date, instant information. You don't even see the humble folks over at Dixon-Ticonderoga tootling their own horns, either.

It's great that Google Wave helped this story win a Pulitzer. But as long as you're praising one tool made of silicon, may as well praise the tools made of graphite and wood as well.

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