Notes from BCNI: Greg Linch on "Rethinking our Thinking"

What are different types of thinking we use for journalism currently? How should we be thinking in a way that informs our journalism better? These are the questions my colleague Greg Linch addressed in his 11 a.m. BCNI session entitled "Rethinking our Thinking." Spurred by his recent interest in computational thinking, the idea of his session is to balance larger view concepts and how they can be applied to the news process.

Before diving into the topic at hand, Greg asked the 50-person audience to arrange our seats into a circle. We each went around the room and introduced ourselves.

Warning: these notes are all over the place because this session was all over the place. There was no structure. It was brilliant.

Types of thinking we brainstormed

  • Analytical
  • Linear/non-linear
  • Critical
  • Curiosity
  • Inductive - start with small point and expand
  • Deductive - start with larger point and look for the smaller picture
  • Computational
  • Visual thinking
  • Brainstorming/visioning
  • Episodic
  • Stream of consciousness
  • Narrative
  • Philosophical
  • Conventional
  • Relational

After brainstorming a list, we identified the top "best practice" thinking as analytical, critical, computational, visual and relational thinking to come up with definitions. The following are the definitions we created and our subsequent analysis of those forms of thinking. (I did not attach names to each person's comment simply because I could not keep up with everyone shouting over each other :))

Analytical thinking: Gathering data, scientific thinking, testing a hypothesis, evidence, context.

  • How we can improve analytical thinking? We have the day-to-day, but we don't step back.
  • We shouldn't be scared of finding  "right answer" to questions
  • To be better analytical thinkers we need continued "liberation" of journalists from the old way of thinking and the physical model (deadline structure, form of the workday)
  • The process informs the way we think
  • We're being trained in the "AP" style of thinking, don't draw conclusions, don't put your own analysis into it -- people aren't interested in reading that anymore
  • The comment that the AP should die was followed up by a comment that maybe we need a better AP
  • Identifying questions sufficient to a full story - the need for immediacy can't distract us from covering a story fully (answering all the questions, identifying a hypotehsis, etc.)
  • Hypothesis, method:

Critical thinking: Questioning face value

Computational: Using computing and applying it to other areas. The computer scientists in the room defined computational thinking as using user interfaces as a way of solving human problems in the world. Greg described it as abstraction vs. automation

  • Dan Berko of the New York Times said the data is not the end all of itself to tell a story. Data is just one source of information that can lead you to different conclusions
  • Will Mitchell of Washington City Paper said that looking for relationships (domain modeling, for example) in any set of data is where he starts with any problem when building a system
  • Mitchell also said to look for outliers, look for points in a set of data when the assumptions break down. One example is a "best of" issue of a newspaper that's produced once a year. How do you map a print-based product into something usable online?
  • When a political reporter comes to him (Mitchell) with a set of data he wants to analyze, he first looks for relationships within the data, answers relatively simple questions that need to be answered. From that it evolves into a process of finding trends (what he calls "domain knowledge").
  • Greg says there's a need to find the balance between human thinking and computational thinking
  • Before we can think computationally, we have to relate to each other as human beings first
  • There are parallels: modeling vs. storyboarding, algorithms vs. editorial structure
  • Similarities between object-oriented programming vs object-oriented journalism
  • The point: there needs to be a middleground
  • Educators say that students aren't coming out of education with a new way of thinking. Worried that we're not in school telling students its OK to melt the two ways of thinking -- you can find these students with these kinds of thinking, not the ones in journalism programs.
  • Independent thinking is important to journalism because education is institutional

(We didn't get to jump into the following modes of thinking because we got so caught up on computational thinking:)

Visual thinking: Mapping, images, patterns, visceral

Narrative: Description, telling a story, inverted pyramid

Relational thinking: Linking, connecting