The Truth Seekers

Monday, April 8, 2019

Last week I got to see what it was like to be an investigative journalist for a day. It was thrilling. I will get into what I learned but first I waned to give some background on why I was doing this.

I have a general curiosity for people. It’s interesting to me to uncover what people are motivated by. Humans are individual snowflakes and no one is exactly like the next. It is our unique experiences that form the way we think and behave, as well as what drives us.

It is in my nature to learn and absorb information. I also recently learned, although I should have realized this throughout my life, I am well attuned to absorbing others emotions. I think my deep drive for understanding others and value of the truth is somewhat perfect for the role of “investigative journalism”.

Researching things for investigative journalism is very similar to that of research for academia. Investigative journalism seems to be driven by intuition, while academia might be more driven by novel research.

I got to see what Jeff Kao’s job was like for a few hours and I learned a lot.

One of the more interesting things we discussed was diffs. I brought up if diffs (as in those used by a source control tool) could work as a line of truth. With a diff, the history of a document is fully transparent, anyone can see any and all changes to it (of course taking into account, tracking force pushes as well).

Jeff pointed out that there is past history of journalism using “diffs”. One example was from an article that uncovered bills and laws being copied and influenced by corporations. They compared the text of the bills to others and showed the changes, similarities, and motivations behind them.

I then realized that Jeff was the author of the amazing article from a couple years ago on how net neutrality comments were likely faked. He used natural language processing to find the similarities in the comments.

Both these articles use comparisons of text to uncover falsifications or motivations. This is super similar to diffs, which is also a comparison of text! I also started thinking about how in my previous article I mentioned it would be cool if laws were versioned with git. By doing that, we would get the diff and history of changes to the laws. Changes to laws or language used over time could be visualized quite easily with the tools for source control.

Overall, the day was fascinating. Investigative journalism was really aligned with my joy of learning new things from a variety of different perspectives and using intuition and research to try to find truth.

Another thought I have been thinking on is: how can we separate emotion from the truth? So much of the news today is trying to trigger an emotional response for clicks. Or in the worst case, it is trying to trigger an emotional response for influencing an election. How can we promote the news sources that focus on the truth versus triggering a reaction? The truth itself should be enough of a trigger.