Monthly Archives: February 2013

The argumentative power of data and narrative in journalism

Nick Diakopoulos, summarizing discussion at the Computation + Journalism Symposium:

This brings us back to the raw cultural difference of the value of “theory” or “model” (i.e. understanding the central tendency and abstraction of data) versus the “anecdote” or “outlier” that is so important to journalists feeling they’ve got a good story to tell. We may be just at the beginning of understanding the benefits and tradeoffs of the narrative-dominant frame versus the analytic-dominant frame, but it’s certain that the cultural dilemma of how news communication is approached underscores a central challenge in integrating computation and journalism.

Read “Finding tools vs. making tools: Discovering common ground between computer science and journalism” at Nieman Lab.

Recent research about argument and narrative: an aside for journalism

A recent article in Informal Logic is worth reading for those interested in argument and journalism because of its discussion of the relationship between narrative and argument.

The article is “Logic and Parables: Do These Narratives Provide Arguments?” by Trudy Govier and Lowell Ayers, and it’s is freely available from IL. The (abbreviated) abstract:

We explore the relationship between argument and narrative with reference to parables. Parables are typically thought to convey a message. In examining a parable, we can ask what that message is, whether the story told provides reasons for the message, and whether those reasons are good reasons. In exploring these questions, we employ as an investigative technique the strategy of reconstructing parables as arguments. We then proceed to consider the cogency of those arguments.

What journalists typically write is closer to narrative than to straight data-warrant-claim arguments. As news consumers, we need to know the extent to which narratives can be treated as arguments before we can subject the narratives to the tools of argument analysis.

It’s true, though, that journalists do not write parables. So the conclusions of “Logic and Parables” are not strictly applicable to journalism.

However, the paper works well as an introduction into research in argument and narrative (as it was for me). It provides an overview of key questions that studies of argument and informal logic put to narrative and a few useful-looking citations.