So, unlike a newspaper piece which is a kind of finished product when presented and doesn’t take another form until it’s followed up maybe a day or a couple days later, I can, as the story changes and as new developments happen, just constantly update, and I can keep adjusting the story line as the circumstances merit, and add to it either in continuous blog posts or in broader pieces that build out from that. So as the story advances, we get to play with it and transform our coverage in reaction to it, rather than have the strictures of our format dictate the way that we cover things, and invariably that creates problems in representation.
And there are of course imperfections with this model, and it’s still new and we’re still figuring out how to maximize it. But I worked at Talking Points Memo before I came here, and I saw just how much value added the Internet could provide in terms of a story being developed.
GM: What are some of the imperfections with the model?
SA: I think there’s a bit of a sense that because the story can be constantly updated, that any particular piece of it is a bit of a work in progress, and I need to think more thoroughly about how to avoid that perception. We don’t want to be updating and changing each particular blog post. We want to let the work have its own end point and have a reader expect that the next post will add to it, rather than each post should be expected to change when circumstances merit. At a certain point, you’ve got to cut off any story. But the Internet still allows you the ability to build rather quickly and adjust your coverage as necessary.
One of the things that I wonder about for online reporting is the degree to which the correction is your friend. It used to be that a correction was a kind of black mark. And there’s no excuse for factual inaccuracy, but what the Internet has done is allow you to say in a more transparent and comfortable fashion, ‘There’s some more information here’ or ‘There’s some more context I should have added’ or ‘There’s something I missed that I shouldn’t have,’ and just allows you to update that piece so that it works, in a both transparent and journalistically sound fashion. The correction, I think, is becoming the update, and that is a net gain for everyone.
GM: Are there any particular stories that you’ve worked on that illuminate either the strengths or imperfections of this model?
SA: Last year, I wrote a series that I’m pretty proud of called “The Rise of the Counterinsurgents,” about this new generation of theorist-practitioners around counterinsurgency who had come out of Iraq and Afghanistan and were in think tanks in Washington and certain places in the Defense Department and the State Department and were thinking through what this current era of warfare meant both tactically and strategically. And I wrote ten of those—it was a series that I would also develop on the blog, so I guess I wrote maybe thirty installments of it over the course of eight months. And there was one particular installment whereby I profiled a really prominent counterinsurgent named David Kilcullen, who’s since written a really excellent book called The Accidental Guerrilla, which is one of the seminal texts of this new generation of counterinsurgents.