Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ask a fictional journalist

Minor characters from old novels guide you along the bleeding edge of blue-sky thinking. Episode two in what, at this rate, might actually be a series. Episode one and rules of the game here.

This week: Press baron George Roads on the role of editorial judgment in decision-making. No questions needed; he speaks far too well for himself:

You mark up the daily net sales of your paper -- on a curve -- a diagram thing. And then, some time when sales seem pretty average, you try a new feature -- 'Turf notes and notions,' or 'Books that have Pep,' or that thing we're trying out now in The Day -- 'The Bread of Life: the Christian's Daily Crumb.' You keep it up every day for a fortnight and watch the curve on the chart. Then you drop that feature for a fortnight; then you put it on again; and all the time you keep on watching your sales on the chart. The chart may show nothing at all -- the feature hasn't mattered a damn, either way. But now and then the curve goes up a little bit during the second week of the fortnight the feature is in, and down again during the second week of the fortnight it's out. Then you may -- though it isn't sure yet -- have yourself a winner; so you feel round a bit more, just to eliminate possible causes of error. And then, when at last you've got a dead cert, you back it, all in, like a man. Science and guts -- that's all there is to it. Simply keep your hand on the pulse of the nation.

Taken from chapter five of Rough Justice, by C.E. Montague (1926). Compare Yahoo's homepage redesign process. For an earlier appearance of Roads, and notes on where he came from, go here.

No comments: