Part one. Late last night, Jay Rosen published a small peek at an idea for a new type of news site. ExplainThis.org would be a platform to connect users with questions to journalists with research and communication skills. Jay’s perspective on this idea has a few notable features: users would be able to coalesce around questions by voting up the ones they have in common, the questions would be more complex that what could be answered through a simple search, and the answers would require “real journalism” to be marked off as complete. It’s also distinguished from Cody Brown’s next big idea in that it would limit the answering participation to “journalists”, although it’s not clear how Jay would define this term, and that the questions would focus more on issues of national interest.
Part two. Through a post by Charlie Stross, I learned from The Observer today that drug money is actually what saved banks in the liquidity crisis, according to the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime:
Speaking from his office in Vienna, [Antonio Maria] Costa said evidence that illegal money was being absorbed into the financial system was first drawn to his attention by intelligence agencies and prosecutors around 18 months ago. “In many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital. In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system’s main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor,” he said.
Some of the evidence put before his office indicated that gang money was used to save some banks from collapse when lending seized up, he said.
British bankers want to see the evidence he has to back up those claims and, as a reader, I was left completely perplexed and boggled as to whether this is a significant story or not.
These two parts don’t need to be mutually exclusive. The starting point could be zero, “What questions do you have?” in Jay’s case, but the starting point can also be further along the continuum of discovering the truth for a particular topic. Adding the ability for the user to ask follow-up questions, with the expectation that the journalist will continue researching the most important of them, would be a powerful approach for more quickly getting at what the community needs to know. Pragmatically, this functionality could mimic work NewsMixer has already done: one type of user comment is a question. In the context of the drug money story, I’d like to ask what the implications are if the facts are true.
The story shouldn’t attempt to be a definitive account of what happened, but rather an entry point for deeper learning.