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

Wicked

“It’s darkest before dawn, and in 2020, all of this will get worse before it gets better.”

We’re in an era of wicked problems around the world: the rise of authoritarianism regimes, deepening political polarization, and of course, the wickedest of all, climate change.

The term “wicked problem” was introduced in 1973 by two design theorists who used it to refer to problems that become so complex their boundaries and interdependencies become too difficult to define, rendering them inherently unsolvable. Poverty, education, environmental policy, public health, and war are all examples.

You can imagine some of the wicked problems of journalism: a sustainable business model for local news; our polluted information ecosystem; the ongoing work in how we think about our role in communities. What makes wicked problems uniquely difficult is that there are many overlapping stakeholders with different perspectives, making it harder to tease out causes and effects. They are also relentless, and can’t be solved with just a single action.

It’s impossible to think about these problems in a vacuum. They exist in a broader context of technological disruption, declining trust in institutions, fractured audiences, shifting power structures, and a president who tries to delegitimize factual and fair reporting.

It’s darkest before dawn, and in 2020, all of this will get worse before it gets better.

Another defining characteristic of wicked problems is that they “arise from unanticipated, uncertain, and unclear futures.” That means it’s less about taking corrective actions and learning through feedback, but instead about constantly scanning for weak signals to envision the way forward. What glimmer of change in one area might affect another?

One glimmer is The Salt Lake Tribune becoming a nonprofit community asset — the first successful attempt by a legacy U.S. daily to do so. When it comes to our polluted information ecosystem, we’ve barely begun to understand the actual problem of mis- and disinformation, realizing social networks are actually working just as intended. There’s progress in our collective action though — from being mindful about amplification when it comes to hateful speech, to not naming mass shooters in certain cases, and the idea of complicating the narrative.

And finally, the backlash toward the Northwestern student journalists. In addressing the criticism, Troy Closson, the editor-in-chief, noted his role as one of only a few black editors in chief in the paper’s history: “Being in this role and balancing our coverage and the role of this paper on campus with my racial identity — and knowing how our paper has historically failed students of color, and particularly black students, has been incredibly challenging to navigate.” Some of our best and brightest young minds are thinking about the potential harms of their coverage, showing a nuanced, sensitive, and empathetic understanding of their role and power in their communities — and that’s a good thing, stumbles and all.

It will get harder before it gets easier. But there’s hope, because I believe in people and the capacity to continue to change and adapt to even the most wicked problems.

Millie Tran is the deputy off-platform editor at The New York Times.

We’re in an era of wicked problems around the world: the rise of authoritarianism regimes, deepening political polarization, and of course, the wickedest of all, climate change.

The term “wicked problem” was introduced in 1973 by two design theorists who used it to refer to problems that become so complex their boundaries and interdependencies become too difficult to define, rendering them inherently unsolvable. Poverty, education, environmental policy, public health, and war are all examples.

You can imagine some of the wicked problems of journalism: a sustainable business model for local news; our polluted information ecosystem; the ongoing work in how we think about our role in communities. What makes wicked problems uniquely difficult is that there are many overlapping stakeholders with different perspectives, making it harder to tease out causes and effects. They are also relentless, and can’t be solved with just a single action.

It’s impossible to think about these problems in a vacuum. They exist in a broader context of technological disruption, declining trust in institutions, fractured audiences, shifting power structures, and a president who tries to delegitimize factual and fair reporting.

It’s darkest before dawn, and in 2020, all of this will get worse before it gets better.

Another defining characteristic of wicked problems is that they “arise from unanticipated, uncertain, and unclear futures.” That means it’s less about taking corrective actions and learning through feedback, but instead about constantly scanning for weak signals to envision the way forward. What glimmer of change in one area might affect another?

One glimmer is The Salt Lake Tribune becoming a nonprofit community asset — the first successful attempt by a legacy U.S. daily to do so. When it comes to our polluted information ecosystem, we’ve barely begun to understand the actual problem of mis- and disinformation, realizing social networks are actually working just as intended. There’s progress in our collective action though — from being mindful about amplification when it comes to hateful speech, to not naming mass shooters in certain cases, and the idea of complicating the narrative.

And finally, the backlash toward the Northwestern student journalists. In addressing the criticism, Troy Closson, the editor-in-chief, noted his role as one of only a few black editors in chief in the paper’s history: “Being in this role and balancing our coverage and the role of this paper on campus with my racial identity — and knowing how our paper has historically failed students of color, and particularly black students, has been incredibly challenging to navigate.” Some of our best and brightest young minds are thinking about the potential harms of their coverage, showing a nuanced, sensitive, and empathetic understanding of their role and power in their communities — and that’s a good thing, stumbles and all.

It will get harder before it gets easier. But there’s hope, because I believe in people and the capacity to continue to change and adapt to even the most wicked problems.

Millie Tran is the deputy off-platform editor at The New York Times.

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