- They want to demonstrate that they're covering a beat thoroughly.
- They want to show that they're a source of breaking news.
- They want a monopoly on as many readers' eyeballs as possible.
- They want to fuel as many clicks as possible, which they believe (wrongly in some cases) will help please advertisers, build brand value and pad paychecks
Monday, April 26, 2010
Modern reporters read too much news.
The problem with reporters in the 21st century is that they read too much news.
A big story -- about how California law enforcement officials used a warrant to search the home of a Gizmodo editor for clues about a leaked Apple iPhone prototype -- is making its way around the Internet today.
It's great fodder for many things: First Amendment rights, shield laws, journalistic ethics (paying for scoops), and so forth.
(A small aside: whether you agree with him or not, we ought to thank Gawker Media founder Nick Denton for his attitude and cunning when it comes to operating a media business and showing that "the rules" are just a mirage. Like him or not, the spirit of his efforts should be commended.)
But the constant recycling of watercooler chatter visible from my Twitter perch has reminded me that good ideas are hard to come by.
So very many publications reposted the Gizmodo-iPhone news as soon as it hit.
They did this because:
But very few added any real value to the discussion, and most just did a good job of obscuring the real source of the news: Gizmodo itself.
I wish online publishers could figure out a technological solution to reposting others' content and giving them monetizable credit for it, for both byline and clicks.
(In fact, Gawker Media used to practice an in-house way of doing this: you'd see a story from, say, Lifehacker in the Gizmodo feed, and clicking it would take you right to the Giz story -- no reblogging or content swapping necessary.)
If every publication in the online ecosystem stopped spending valuable resources reblogging each others' content, perhaps they could actually utilize those resources to produce original stories.
Of course, that changes the playing field a bit: outlets such as the New York Times rarely need to "reblog" another publication's content because they have a wealth of reporters at their disposal to ensure readers get their fill on their website; conversely, tiny outlets such as The Business Insider would lose regular attention because they don't have the staff to produce enough original news to sustain a reader on a regular basis.
I understand the value of information exchange on the Internet. I believe it is the web's defining characteristic, and limiting it (such as not linking off to external sites) would be of little use to the greater ecosystem.
But I believe there is too much recycling of information going on -- so much so that the original source doesn't get enough credit, and rebloggers get just enough to continue doing it endlessly.
In other words: it's just too hard to navigate the news.
But I'm not approaching this from a high-horse journalism point of view. I'm simply looking at it from a reader's. It's massively perplexing to suddenly see an endless parade of brief, shallow stories about the same crumb of news.
It fosters no loyalty, as far as I can experience -- only loyalty to who can break news first, which, in the age of Twitter, is a tenuous goal.
Which brings me, long-windedly, to my main point: modern reporters simply read too much news. Their coverage is often clouded -- rather than informed -- by previous coverage of the same topic by other publications.
They fail to approach topics by a new angle.
They fail to ask questions.
They fail to offer value to the reader.
The Internet is a wonderful thing. It has allowed us to be more informed than ever before. (Surely I'm not the only one who has spent hours reading obscure Wikipedia entries for my own edification.)
But it has, in a way, served to stunt a reporter's effectiveness. It's too easy to keep an eye -- two, even -- on rival reporters on the same beat. It's too easy to pursue self-fulfilling scoops that dovetail on previously published scoops.
It's too easy to internalize the way others write.
The way others think.
The way others report.
This kind of thing can veer off into plagiarism, which I believe is easier than ever in the age of copy-and-paste -- no malicious intent necessary.
It can also quickly become inside baseball, with reporters reporting on reporters' reporting. (The press release-fueled gadget beat? Full of this.)
But I also believe it makes for a fairly useless reporter.
I want my reporters to be somewhat aloof. I want them to read up on previous coverage and basic facts about a topic, sure, but I also want them to ignore who wrote it, and when, and who else may be covering the topic.
There's a bit of value in having an informed reporter operate in a vacuum, working disconnected from the news cycle.
Let the editor be their tether to it.