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Journalism and fast slow thinking


Daniel Kahneman, in his excellent book Thinking fast and slowexplains that the brain exhibits two distinct modes of operation: system one and system two. System one is “fast” subconscious intuitive thought and action whereas system two is the “slow” deliberative mode of thinking which we employ in solving complex problems which require effort such as 13 x 27.

System one is employed most of the time and usually does a pretty good job at working things out intuitively but sometimes system two needs to override system one lest we make basic errors.

Journalism today is typically about producing “content” with great speed. This emphasis on speed has led some to describe such production as “churnalism” but there remains value in the fast dissemination of news to the wider public which mass market online websites are best equipped to deliver.

Paradoxically this means journalists must act fast but also think slow or engage both system one and system two to disseminate and present credible information but do so with haste.

I was struck by this paradox after completing an enjoyable and educational week as an intern with Fairfax media. Unsurprisingly I can report that there was a constant hive of activity in the newsroom as reporters rushed to find/follow up on stories then to upload them. Yet there was also some deliberation  as reporters sought to verify their facts before publication.

There also appeared a pleasing collegiality amongst reporters who sought advice from more knowledgeable colleagues concerning specific areas of information.

I learnt a lot in an enjoyable week but it was one mistake (as they nearly always are) which proved the most instructive.

In my haste to complete a pretty straightforward story (here) about Fiji Airways’ launch of their new direct route from Wellington to Nadi, I incorrectly stated that city as the capital of Fiji. Suva is of course the capital of Fiji and not Nadi which an alert reader pointed out to the editor.  Of course I should have checked this myself.  The mistake was mine and I must own it.

Nonetheless I thoroughly enjoyed my week’s work at Fairfax media where journalists seemed happy about their work but this served as an important reminder for me of the need to engage system two.


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