Digging complexity: an example

Digging complexity: an example

This is a follow up post after my talk to science students at UBC yesterday. The instructor asked for an example of using my science background to make sense of something complex. My answer on the spot wasn’t great, but a better one came to me as the session ended (isn’t that always the way?). So I thought I’d post it here. I have to stress, a scientific background is not necessary — anyone can ask the same kinds of questions. But, for me, the muscles I exercised in science help. I imagine it would be similar for someone with a background in economics or the law, who can skip a couple of steps en route to finding interesting information in those fields. Meltdown in the media After the earthquake in Japan caused damage to reactors in Fukushima, there were a lot of scary headlines about radiation. I remember waking up to a news that the nuclear fuel rods were “exposed” and in danger of melting down. I was tasked that day with explaining to our audience, an ocean away, what that meant. Step one: what does “exposed” mean? Many of the early reports were not explaining that bit, leaving the audience to wonder whether the nuclear fuel was exposed to the outside world—meaning the reactor was totally compromised. So what was happening? The officials were slow to release information, the aerial shots were not clear, and I had no idea what the inside of a nuclear reactor looked like (despite growing up in nuclear towns). So, I needed the help of people who know about nuclear reactors, would pick...
Is TV News Salvageable? A response.

Is TV News Salvageable? A response.

To be fair, I should have known. Look at the title: “Is TV News Journalism Salvageable?” It presumes a thing broken, that may or may not be rescued from the alley before the garbage truck comes. But, I went, because I find it a luxury to step back from the daily panic of doing, and talk about doing better. Maybe there would be talk instead of sanding and refinishing, or a fresh coat of paint. One new path Kai Nagata was headlining, with a critique of TV news, and why he quit his job when he felt more like part of the problem than the solution. He’s a very engaging speaker, but I bristled when he took some cheap shots, mocking CBC News and CTV’s Investigators (one of whom was in the audience) for having flashy graphics. As I said on Twitter, if you’re going to criticize TV news, don’t start by dogging new investment in enterprise and original storytelling (something CBC is also putting more local resources into). Still, he made solid points analyzing one of his own previous stories, describing how he hadn’t the time or freedom in that job to do the journalism he wanted. So, he’s now sleeping in a tent in his parent’s backyard, working on a solution—networking online and across the country to talk about new models of production and distribution. And let me be clear: I don’t take umbrage with that, or with anyone taking risks to tell stories they care about. Is that it? But the discussion that followed left me disappointed, because it turned so cynical, despite the smart people...