Sunday, January 24, 2010

Stock and flow in journalism

Twice within the past week I've seen references to "stock" vs. "flow," a distinction that appears to originate in economics and describes the static vs. dynamic aspects of a system.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman used the terms in in a column about economic development in China, contrasting how historically what's mattered in economic growth was making the best use of knowledge stocks but now managing a dynamic flow of knowledge is increasingly important.

Robin Sloan blogged about how stock and flow serve as a metaphor for modern media, with the flow of tweets and blog postings being more prominent in media consciousness than substantial works such as books. Even as she says flow is "ascendant," her view is that stock (the more durable creations) is something "we ignore at our own peril." Both are important and striking a balance of time and attention to creating both is crucial, she says.

In journalism, especially, flow appears to be ascendant these days, with news tweets, mobile updates, live blogging, aggregation and the like getting so much attention and effort. But the "stock" of journalism is the information that's developed through original, independent reporting -- the vast majority of which comes from mainline news organizations. So much of the flow, especially through the blogosphere, just moves this stock around. But as news organizations shrink, the durable stock of vetted, verified information developed in this way shrinks along with them. As Sloan points out, we ignore this at our peril.

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