20200
P
1
20100
R  E
2
2070
D   I   C
3
2050
T   I   O   N
4
2040
S   F   O   R   J
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2030
O  U  R  N  A  L
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2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

A call for context

“Proper context will require that news outlets understand the political, economic, historical, and social environments of the places, people, and events that they report on.”

News is data placed in context.

Context is ever more important in this era of data-driven elections, social media, and emerging technology. While rapid and iterative distribution, data journalism, and hot takes are now normal parts of how we get information, the sheer speed of delivery is in no way a replacement for providing a holistic view of the events, occurrences, activities, and other things that make the news.

To be sure, a holistic approach, one that grounds data — reporting — in the particular social environment, would go a long way in reversing the loss of trust in mainstream journalism. Recent reporting lacking context has caused a national broadcaster to have to place an editor’s note” on social media posts promoting its story on the sentiments of those who attended a political rally. A similar lack of context allowed many to be mislead into believing that a Democratic victory was assured in the 2016 presidential elections, based on forecasts from various data-oriented sites failing to adequately explain the wide margins of error in the predictions.

When there have been attempts at providing more depth, a lack of grounding — of understanding the historic foundations of communities — has hampered more complete interpretations of the political environment. In a quest to understand rural and other undercovered parts of the United States, for example, news outlets have ignored the black, native, and other people of color who live there.

Proper context, then, will require that news outlets understand the political, economic, historical, and social environments of the places, people, and events that they report on. The journalistic organizations perhaps best placed to do this are those located within specific communities, those employing a critical mass of representatives of various communities, and those taking the time to understand the context of the data they collect and report.

To be sure, journalism matters. Journalism that allows for the creation of a more full picture, a better understanding of the topic of focus, matters more for our being able to grasp why things are the way that they are.

Jasmine McNealy is an associate professor at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications.

News is data placed in context.

Context is ever more important in this era of data-driven elections, social media, and emerging technology. While rapid and iterative distribution, data journalism, and hot takes are now normal parts of how we get information, the sheer speed of delivery is in no way a replacement for providing a holistic view of the events, occurrences, activities, and other things that make the news.

To be sure, a holistic approach, one that grounds data — reporting — in the particular social environment, would go a long way in reversing the loss of trust in mainstream journalism. Recent reporting lacking context has caused a national broadcaster to have to place an editor’s note” on social media posts promoting its story on the sentiments of those who attended a political rally. A similar lack of context allowed many to be mislead into believing that a Democratic victory was assured in the 2016 presidential elections, based on forecasts from various data-oriented sites failing to adequately explain the wide margins of error in the predictions.

When there have been attempts at providing more depth, a lack of grounding — of understanding the historic foundations of communities — has hampered more complete interpretations of the political environment. In a quest to understand rural and other undercovered parts of the United States, for example, news outlets have ignored the black, native, and other people of color who live there.

Proper context, then, will require that news outlets understand the political, economic, historical, and social environments of the places, people, and events that they report on. The journalistic organizations perhaps best placed to do this are those located within specific communities, those employing a critical mass of representatives of various communities, and those taking the time to understand the context of the data they collect and report.

To be sure, journalism matters. Journalism that allows for the creation of a more full picture, a better understanding of the topic of focus, matters more for our being able to grasp why things are the way that they are.

Jasmine McNealy is an associate professor at the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications.

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