Holistic medicine for journalism

“A holistic approach means bringing different voices into newsrooms. It means taking on a more innovative approach to product development. It means thinking about how the operations and goals of different departments work together.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines holistic as “characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.”

In news, holistic means we can’t think about our audience without first thinking about how our journalism determines who our audience is. We can’t think about our journalism without thinking about the context we find ourselves in. And we can’t think about the products we create without thinking about who and what they impact.

The past year has forced the urgent movement toward this type of thinking in 2021.

The incorporation of emerging technology into our newsrooms requires a holistic approach, for instance. When building an editorial algorithm, you need to consider the data being used. Where did it come from? What might be missing from the dataset, given its history and context? How are you training (and re-training) the algorithm? How will it be used? Thinking holistically can help you avoid incorporating bias into your work and ensure you end up with something useful and usable.

The continued proliferation of formats has also forced the onset of holistic thinking. When creating a change on an article page, you need to consider the CMS workflow, and whether it will work in an app, on AMP, on Apple News, and so on. You might think to promote a particular story across channels, but neglect the average performance across your site. With holistic thinking, you will be more able to improve your user’s experience and your company’s bottom line.

Our industry’s coverage of the many difficult circumstances people are experiencing again highlights this need. In journalism pedagogy, we learn the refrain “if it bleeds, it leads.” But we don’t learn about how that idea affects the stories we tell and who is likely to engage with them. It doesn’t help us learn about the intersectionality of stories in an increasingly complex world. With holistic thinking, you might be more likely to dig more deeply and support diverse stories and perspectives often missing across the news industry.

Holistic also implies a medical or health-oriented way of thinking. Holistic medicine, again according to the OED, is “characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.”

This year — with a global pandemic, issues of mental health, and more — has proven how important it is to think about the whole health of our organizations. Our newsrooms are organisms where every team works together to create a sum larger than their individual parts. A holistic approach allows us to iterate on the systems and processes we have in consideration of their knock-on effects on the individual and of the individual on the company.

A holistic approach means bringing different voices into newsrooms. It means taking on a more innovative approach to product development. It means thinking about how the operations and goals of different departments work together.

Over the past 10 years, we have moved quickly from broadcast to engagement thinking. But the next phase of this evolution is to take a holistic approach and to think in terms of ecosystems. A holistic understanding and management of our ecosystems will help us — our industry, our newsrooms, ourselves — be more resilient and faster to adapt in 2021 and beyond.

Alyssa Zeisler is R&D chief and senior product manager for The Wall Street Journal.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines holistic as “characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.”

In news, holistic means we can’t think about our audience without first thinking about how our journalism determines who our audience is. We can’t think about our journalism without thinking about the context we find ourselves in. And we can’t think about the products we create without thinking about who and what they impact.

The past year has forced the urgent movement toward this type of thinking in 2021.

The incorporation of emerging technology into our newsrooms requires a holistic approach, for instance. When building an editorial algorithm, you need to consider the data being used. Where did it come from? What might be missing from the dataset, given its history and context? How are you training (and re-training) the algorithm? How will it be used? Thinking holistically can help you avoid incorporating bias into your work and ensure you end up with something useful and usable.

The continued proliferation of formats has also forced the onset of holistic thinking. When creating a change on an article page, you need to consider the CMS workflow, and whether it will work in an app, on AMP, on Apple News, and so on. You might think to promote a particular story across channels, but neglect the average performance across your site. With holistic thinking, you will be more able to improve your user’s experience and your company’s bottom line.

Our industry’s coverage of the many difficult circumstances people are experiencing again highlights this need. In journalism pedagogy, we learn the refrain “if it bleeds, it leads.” But we don’t learn about how that idea affects the stories we tell and who is likely to engage with them. It doesn’t help us learn about the intersectionality of stories in an increasingly complex world. With holistic thinking, you might be more likely to dig more deeply and support diverse stories and perspectives often missing across the news industry.

Holistic also implies a medical or health-oriented way of thinking. Holistic medicine, again according to the OED, is “characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.”

This year — with a global pandemic, issues of mental health, and more — has proven how important it is to think about the whole health of our organizations. Our newsrooms are organisms where every team works together to create a sum larger than their individual parts. A holistic approach allows us to iterate on the systems and processes we have in consideration of their knock-on effects on the individual and of the individual on the company.

A holistic approach means bringing different voices into newsrooms. It means taking on a more innovative approach to product development. It means thinking about how the operations and goals of different departments work together.

Over the past 10 years, we have moved quickly from broadcast to engagement thinking. But the next phase of this evolution is to take a holistic approach and to think in terms of ecosystems. A holistic understanding and management of our ecosystems will help us — our industry, our newsrooms, ourselves — be more resilient and faster to adapt in 2021 and beyond.

Alyssa Zeisler is R&D chief and senior product manager for The Wall Street Journal.

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