The New York Times Article “For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions” represents both the promise and the failure of modern journalism.
The promise because the article was a classic piece of investigative journalism that shined the light on the way the ultrarich maneuver the political and legal system to evade taxes.
The failure, because the NY Times only enraged readers. Instead of empowering their readers by providing tools to help them take action and drive political change, they only offered an article, like offering a match without a lantern to people looking for light. The match ignites the fire, but the lantern keeps it burning much brighter and longer than the match alone.
Articles are an 18th century technology that are still incredibly powerful here in the 21st century but they:
- Lack Personalization so that you can understand how the issue impacts you specifically – or where your specific representatives stand on an issue or their role in the problem, i.e. who are my representatives, do they have their hand in the cookie jar, what’s their official position and what’s their track record on the issue.
- Are passive instead of being Interactive. While they get you enraged, they don’t help you get engaged and take action. Instead you have to search elsewhere for tools and resources to help you reach out to your representatives or mobilize others to make change.
While Infographics, data visualizations, videos and even virtual reality are great new story telling tools, they still don’t fundamentally transform news organizations from being content generators into solution providers – which is what we as a society need to increase our civic engagement and news organizations need to do in order to grow their value.
So if the Times and other news organizations truly want to make a difference, then they need to provide users the ability to:
- Find their specific representatives
- Identify how much they’ve received from lobbyists and individuals
- Their votes on specific items
- Their positions on the issue. The Times could have easily sent a survey to the representatives and Senators to get their feedback.
- Give feedback to their elected officials via Democracy.io or similar tool
- Create, sign or share petitions demanding change
- Engage with organizations that are fighting for equity
- Attend virtual or physical town halls with key players to learn more about the issue and potential ways to get more involved
I’m sure I’ve barely scratched the surface on what the NY Times could do. And yes, they all contain risks, but unlike real estate and employment classifieds, civic engagement is why we became journalists and the space news organizations need to own if they are to fulfill their 21st century potential.