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Telling Every Story: Characteristics of Systematic Reporting

Published: 17 December 2021

Abstract: Journalists have traditionally had the power to choose which news stories to tell and which not to tell. This “gatekeeping” power was not won by journalists in a contest with others, or imposed on audiences, but was instead the unavoidable consequence of structural constraints in the production, distribution, and consumption of news in the pre-digital environment. This article examines this structural selectivity in journalism, identifies the kinds of news stories that may be more difficult to tell selectively and questions whether the structural constraints that require selectivity are still relevant in the digital news ecosystem. A systematic alternative to selective journalism, in which every story within a domain is covered in the same way, is described. Several examples of systematic journalism implemented in newsrooms in the US and UK are provided, and the public service motivations for their systematic coverage is emphasised. Systematic journalism is positioned as fundamentally, not incrementally, different from selective journalism in its characteristics and outcomes, and some of those characteristics are reviewed. A description of systematic journalism as it might be applied to climate change news stories is then developed. Finally, some of the broader challenges and implications of systematic forms of journalism are discussed.
Keywords: Systematic reporting / structured journalism / automated journalism / sensor journalism / crowdsourced journalism / computational journalism / data journalism

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