Megan Taylor

front-end dev, volunteacher, news & data junkie, bibliophile, Flyers fan, sci-fi geek and kitteh servant

11 Philosophical questions and journalism

Neatorama posted the 11 most important philosophical questions today. While I read through them, I thought of how each could be applied to journalism.

  • “The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates (470-399 BCE)
  • The unexamined isn’t news. But, almost anything, once examined, is news. Everyone has a story, and it is a reporter’s job to find out what that is and what’s interesting about it.

  • “Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily” – William of Ockham (1285 – 1349?)
  • Applies more to Web design, but since newspapers are learning how to do that: Remove all unnecessary design elements. Simple is better.

  • “The life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” – Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679)
  • Sure. But relate it back to the first one. Even if everyone’s life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” there’s always something unique and interesting that warrants inclusion in a story.
    The quote originally describes man in his or her natural “uncivilized” state. The dissemination of news is part of what we like to call a civilized society. Thus, news prevents the life of man from being “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

  • “I think therefore I am” – René Descartes (1596 – 1650)
  • I am, therefore I write. I think, therefore I have something to write about.

  • “To be is to be perceived (Esse est percipi).” – Bishop George Berkeley (1685 – 1753)
  • To be written about is to be perceived.

  • “We live in the best of all possible worlds.” – Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 – 1716)
  • Maybe, but bad news sells papers. And there always seems to be plenty of that.

  • “The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” G.W.F. Hegel (1770 – 1831)
  • You never know what the real story is until you sit down to write it.

  • “Who is also aware of the tremendous risk involved in faith – when he nevertheless makes the leap of faith – this [is] subjectivity … at its height.” – Søren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)
  • Decisions, in writing, reporting and editing, are not always crystal clear. Sometimes you just have to take the risk.

  • “God is dead.” – Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900)
  • Print is dead? Not yet, but it’s on the way out. A healthy dose of skepticism is good in a reporter, but cynicism can ruin a good reporter.

  • “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” – Albert Camus (1913 – 1960)
  • There is but one truly serious ethical problem: Do you print it as a suicide or not?

  • “One cannot step twice in the same river.” – Heraclitus (ca. 540 – ca. 480 BCE)
  • You can’t write the same story twice. There is always a new angle, a change or some background you didn’t know about the first time around.

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