I really liked this piece David Roberts on Vox, summarising Ezra Klein on the transformation of journalism. This is the context in which there’s a great unexplored potential for public sociology, as I’ve tried to argue:
The internet changed all that. There are no longer supply constraints — it is trivially cheap and easy to publish something on the web — and there are virtually no constraints left on the supply of information. Libraries are online. Government records are online. Every public figure’s every move is blogged or tweeted.
Two things follow. First, with supply constraints gone, there is no reason to confine web journalism to the length and formal constraints of journalism developed for paper. Any story can be as long as it needs to be, whether it’s 200 words or 2,000. Not every journalist must choose between the view-from-nowhere voice of the objective journalist and stale aphorisms of major newspaper editorial pages. There is room for a greater variety of length, form, tone, voice, and subject on the web.
And second, there’s more need for explanation. Because they were supply constrained, newspapers and newspaper journalists focused on what was new, what just happened, the incremental development. But lots of times, readers had no way of making sense of those developments or contextualizing them. They were getting the leaves, but they’d never gotten the trunk.
Especially as information and incremental developments explode in quantity, there is increasing public hunger for understanding — not so much what happened, but what it means.
The great question of our age is simply, WTF? WTF isn’t asking after what happened. It’s easy to find out what happened these days. Rather, it’s pointing at what happened and asking, well … WTF?
What’s the deal with that? How does it work? How good or bad is it, really? How does it connect with these other things? What can we learn from its history?
People want to know how the world works. They want to know why the things that are happening are happening. They don’t stop wanting to learn when they get out of school.
So journalism is inevitably shifting. These days, it is less about producing new information than it is about gathering information already on the record, evaluating it, and explaining and contextualizing it for an audience, perhaps with some analysis and argumentation for good measure.
Don’t get me wrong: There’s still plenty of information to be dug up. Investigative journalism still very much exists, though it is under-funded everywhere. I look on it with great admiration and some awe, but it’s not what I do. And though many are loathe to admit it, it’s not what most US journalists do these days.
It also has a lovely description of how to network without networking:
You should be interested in your subject. If you are, you will seek out people who know more than you and learn from them. You will share what you know with people who want to know more. You will trade stories with people engaged on the same subject. As a side effect, you will network. Let your curiosity be your guide.
The people who have come to my favorable attention over the years have done so because they ask smart questions, or point to information or sources I hadn’t seen, or connect me with other useful people. Whatever their roles or intentions, they know and care about the subject matter; they want to learn and they want to share what they know.