Data-rich environments, anyone?

I’ll be writing about the night’s U.S. presidential primary news in a few minutes, but first a point about… pointing.

I’ll be writing about the night’s U.S. presidential primary news in a few minutes, but first a point about… pointing.

I refer, of course, to John King. The strapping CNN reporter is doing his thing with the computer board again tonight,  ordering and displaying layers of information with extraordinary agility. Here’s some Youtube footage of King doing his thing earlier, and here are New York Times blog and article hagiography.

As the Times hints,  while the technology of King’s touch screen is stunning, it has preceents: Tim Russert’s delegate-count whiteboard in 2000 and, some of you may remember, the virtuoso performance Eric Malling put on during the CBC’s election-night coverage in 1988, armed with no more than an impeccable briefing book and Malling’s own knowledge of local riding races.

In every case what was remarkable was the density of pertinent information on display for viewers. I just watched King present a county-by-county analysis of the Pennsylvania returns, including maps of metropolitan-versus-hinterland voter trends going back four election cycles. It couldn’t be further from the kind of coverage that seeks to ratify coffee-table chit-chat by wasting viewers’ time with reporters who know no more than the audience does.

Not for the first time, I’m reminded of a key topic of discussion at the Maclean‘s Ottawa bureau: if we actually had U.S.-style campaigns and coverage, instead of centre-left Canadians’ cheap stereotype of U.S. campaigns and coverage, it would be a considerable step up from the current situation.

Who’s capable of delivering the density of information King now routinely delivers on big political nights? CBC Newsworld, which ran a documentary about Akhmed the poppy farmer instead of covering the last four by-elections?

The answer, of course, will be that CNN is a niche network serving a fraction of the audience of the big Canadian broadcasters. I don’t buy it.  I maintain that voters are hungry for comprehensible information, not for cheerful information-free glibness.

So I think reporters who can digest and comprehensibly deliver large amounts of data, sense and explain the connections among the returns, reduce the amount of ignorance and confusion in the air rather than adding to the confusion as a mark of cheap populism, are under-valued in the current Canadian journalistic market.