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Newsroom Lessons from Iraq War Policy

I just finished reading Wired magazine’s article by  Noah Shachtman entitled: How Technology Almost Lost the War: In Iraq, the Critical Networks Are Social — Not Electronic.

It might be a stretch, but as I was reading the article I thought what if the words newsrooms or reporters or editors were dropped into some paragraph would the advice then sound right also. Let’s give it a go with some article excerpts, you be the judge:

 The goal here is to stabilize a government, not bring it down; to persuade people to cooperate, not bludgeon them into submission….Nagl’s counterinsurgency manual … advises troops to get to know the locals — both individually and as groups — and gain their trust … they’re already plugged into the communal network. “Arguably,” the manual says, “the decisive battle is for the people’s minds.”

A key tenet of network theory is that a network’s power grows with every new node. But that’s only if every node gets as good as it gives.

“This enemy is better networked than we are.”

“The real problem with network-centric warfare is that it helps us only destroy. But in the 21st century, that’s just a sliver of what we’re trying to do,” Nagl says. “It solves a problem I don’t have — fighting some conventional enemy — and helps only a little with a problem I do have: how to build a society in the face of technology-enabled, super-empowered individuals.”

The slow-moving Defense Department bureaucracy hasn’t worked quickly enough to roll out wired gear for the troops. Insurgents seized on commercial technology quicker than anticipated.

 ”You have your social networks and technological networks. You need to have both.”

And here is perhaps what’s new and could be adapted for newsrooms:

The Army has set aside $41 million to build what it calls Human Terrain Teams: 150 social scientists, software geeks, and experts on local culture, split up and embedded with 26 different military units in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next year. The first six HTTs are already on the ground. The idea, basically, is to give each commander a set of cultural counselors, the way he has soldiers giving him combat advice…

Soon each team will get a server, a half-dozen laptops, a satellite dish, and software for social-network analysis — to diagram how all of the important players in an area are connected. Digital timelines will mark key cultural and political events. Mapmaking programs will plot out the economic, ethnic, and tribal landscape, just like the command post of the future maps the physical terrain. But those HTT diagrams can never be more than approximations, converting messy analog narratives to binary facts. Warfare will continue to center around networks. But some networks will be social, linking not computers and drones and Humvees but tribes, sects, political parties, even entire cultures. In the end, everything else is just data.

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