@JeffJarvis on Data (for Presbyterians?)

A Jeff Jarvis book inspired this blog into cyber-being, and since then I’ve read his blogs and books ardently. His most recent book, Geeks Bearing Gifts, advocates a complete re-think of journalism and publishing for the cloud-based, connected world. It’s a great read.

Here’s a snippet that clarifies what I’m after in my desire for an alternative to The Presbyterian Layman for Presbyterians seeking information and analysis about our denomination (hint: it’s all about the data):

Data is a critical new opportunity for news organizations. What journalists have to ask — as with the flow of news — is how they add value to data by helping to gather it (with effort, clout, tools, and the ability to convene a community), analyze it (by calling upon or hiring experts who bring context and questions or by writing algorithms), and present it (contributing, most importantly, context and explanation). . . .

Lots of readers heard my earlier post as a plea for a progressive counterweight to The Layman’s right wing commentary, but commentary is not the problem I want to solve. Data is. The Presbyterian Outlook and the Presbyterian News Service are both reputable and reliable sources of data and analysis on a church-wide, institutional scale, but lack the distribution of resources needed to gather, analyze, and present data distributed across presbyteries.

I want there to be an instrument for

  • gathering data about what’s happening across the PC(USA), in presbyteries, synods, new worshiping communities, seminaries, and (fill in the blank),
  • analyzing that data (how is what’s happening with dismissals in San Gabriel Presbytery different from what’s happening in Heartland Presbytery? What data binds together churches leaving the denomination?),
  • and rigorously presenting that data in a digital format with an obsessive respect for facts and sources.

And I want to call it “The Main Line: News And Analysis for Presbyterians.”

Would you read that?

18 thoughts on “@JeffJarvis on Data (for Presbyterians?)

  1. My brother Jeff Jarvis just sent this to me. I am Cindy Jarvis, Presbyterian minister in Philadelphia (and now of Feasting on the Gospel fame :-)). I will pay more attention to this after Sunday, but wanted to connect. My parents used to belong to your church and my mother was on the APNC that called Bear Ride!

  2. shaking head…lies, damn lies and statistics. Data is easy to ask for. It is less easy to gather. Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. But, to quote the hitchhikers guide, “Are you sure you are asking the right question?”

      1. I think data helps us to see which questions need to be asked. The “quantified self” movement has a lot to teach us about that. As does Bill James. If we don’t know the data, we can’t question assumptions, and if we can’t question assumptions, then we are operating blind.

        Gladwell’s “Blink” has given me a rubric on dealing with data: If I know indicators, I can focus on those and allow other chips to fall in line without having to worry about them. ie – I’m trying to lose weight. I know that if I track between 7-10K steps on my fitbit and keep my calorie count to a daily 750 calorie deficit I will lose roughly a pound of fat a week. The scales may not reflect it since I’m also building muscle through riding my bike, but the indicator data tells me that it’s happening.

        In the PCUSA, we’re focusing on the scales, not step count or calories.

    1. Plus, you have more subtle indicators (qualitative data) like the fact that I just had to tighten my belt by one more hole. So the scale says I’m maintaining or even gaining weight, but my quantitative and qualitative indicators say another thing.

      “Dear God, we’re hemorrhaging members! the denomination is over!” Meh. Maybe we’re just shedding fat so we can be more nimble.

  3. I’ve been in a lot of corporate meetings, a ton of conferences where speakers will talk about the data. Powerpoint presentations, video clips, etc.

    this era is drowning in data.

    The thing about data, like with life, is you have to decide what to focus on. That’s what a good journalist does. a good WRITER pulls different bits of data together and forms a narrative. That story (right or wrong) then gives people something to rally around. And if the story contains a call to action (Do 1,2,3 and you will affect change) it’s a whole movement.

    the story is even more important than the data. That’s why movies are so compelling, even when they are not data based.

    Isn’t the PCUSA a spiritual organization? What’s the spiritual story? What’s our current story and what’s our aspirational –or what we wish our story was?

    The story we currently tell ourselves affects what data we begin to gather and how we interpret that data.

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