Because of US elections, French TV gave us the opportunity to watch again Alan J. Pakula’s movie : All the President’s Men. I have been impressed by one particular thing in the movie : the technological gap between 1972 and today !
The movie is based on one of the most famous investigation in journalism history : the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of R. Nixon. Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Bob Woodward (Robert Redford), both reporters at the Washington Post, try to discover the connections between burglars arrested in the Democratic National Committee headquarters and Nixon’s top advisors.
What is captivating for us in watching this movie is to see the reporters investigating… without the Internet. They use telephone directories to find names or adresses of people to interview, they go to the Library of Congress in order to review thousands of paper record cards of borrowed books, they also write their articles (and of course re-write them) without any type of word processing software, etc. It seems that 90% of their work could be done today in a few clicks… !
But, at the same time, what is really key in their investigation is how to find the right “not so easily (?) available” information. It is obtaining secret or unconfortable data from people. This is where the movie is really interesting : how to have a confirmation made by a person without him dropping any name, how to spend litteraly hours with a person to build confidence, how to obtain accurate information from a colleague who happens to be the girlfriend of a man working in the Republican Campaign Committee, etc. Despite the technological gap with our current ways of looking for information, we can see that important things have to be looked for carefully and with many different tactics.
This is still relevant for us. We should not be mesmerized by technology and the overload of information that goes with it. We have a lot to learn (and so do our children) in order to find what is worthy and what is not. Howard Rheingold often uses Hemingway’s saying that : “Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him“. But I would also add that every man should have a nugget-detector operting inside him, because in front of multiple sources of information, it sometimes helps to count on intuition and serendipity.
How alive are these detectors in us ? How ingenious are we in looking for relevant information ? How persistent are we in transforming multiple signals into valuable knowledge ? Berstein and Woodward are still good masters to learn from.