A new New Precision Journalism

November 3, 2009

Fascinating though it is, and despite the leading adjective in the title, Philip Meyer’s classic New Precision Journalism is sorely in need of an update.

Of course, a book written over 18 years ago can’t help but be overtaken by events. Some of the examples, and in particular the details, have dated badly. Even more glaring is what is missing – no mention of mobiles, no email and (naturally) no Web.

Now it’s certainly true that the principles of sound research and data analysis that Meyer champions are timeless. There is still more than enough practical advice and common sense to make it an essential addition to any journalist’s bookshelf.

But we are living in a different, more connected world. Not only are the raw data out there in far greater quantity and in more convenient formats, and not only are the tools to delve into them far more sophisticated and easy to use, but the very inter-connectedness of that data is itself a new avenue for exploration.

For example, an experiment by MIT reported by the Boston Globe found that it was possible to predict a person’s sexuality simply by examining their list of friends; researchers at the University of Texas found that even when websites stripped out the personal details of their users, it was often possible to identify them by a technique of cross-referencing.

An article earlier this year from ComputerWorld (headlined “What the Web Knows About You“) rang alarm bells for the reporter who discovered a wealth of personal information about him freely available online – not all of it accurate.

These new forms of info-mining, taking advantage of the multiple, often unintended, connections between data sets, should form the focus of a new New Precision Journalism; true to the values and strengths of the original, but alert to the fresh horizons opened up by communications technology.

And who knows – it may throw up some great stories!

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9 Responses to “A new New Precision Journalism”

  1. Marcelo Soares Says:

    It was updated in 2002. This update could also use an update, but anyway it *was* updated. http://www.amazon.com/Precision-Journalism-Reporters-Introduction-Science/dp/0742510883

  2. Philip Meyer Says:

    The fourth edition of Precision Journalism was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2002, and you will find it a bit more up-to-date. But I agree that a new one is needed.

  3. Steve Harrison Says:

    Thanks for the info – I had checked on Amazon but didn’t come across the 2002 edition. I will request our University library obtains copies.

  4. Philip Meyer Says:

    It’s a common mistake and my fault for changing the title to “The New Precision Journalism” for the third edition. I changed it back for the fourth because it was a more modest update.

  5. Philip Meyer Says:

    Work being done at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University might lead to the update you are looking for. James Hamilton and Sarah Cohen are developing a tool kit for what they call “computational journalism.” And it sounds like the sort of thing you are advocating. More power to them!

  6. Phil Meyer Says:

    For some of the history behind precision journalism, you now can read my self-published memoir, “Paper Route: Finding My Way to Precision Journalism.” More information at http://www.philipmeyer.authorsxpress.com.


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