Journalism 2.0

In journalism, speed is everything. Big stories need to be reported on before they turn stale, or someone else gets the scoop.

As citizen journalism and blogging mature and become competing forces for readership, newspapers are racing to be first to report. These competitors have the motivation to report the story with little compensation and the ability to report with low-cost. All you need is a mobile phone, free or cheap web hosting and a Twitter account.

Google has put everyone on a level playing field. A search is just as likely to return a blog post as a newspaper article. A search for a topic on Twitter will get you anybody’s opinion.

To avoid missing the opportunity to catch those eyeballs and sell more advertising, newspapers have adopted the live-blog, Twitter and the RSS feed to get information out to their readers as quickly as possible, who seem to lap it right up.

The problem with being first is that first can also be wrong, or at least wrong by omission.

Look no further than the mass of G20 reporting from last weekend. The Toronto Star’s Twitter page and live-blogs are wastelands of lazy copy editing and vague information. It’s clear that reporters were posting directly to the site from the chaotic streets without an editor’s second glance.

But what really bothered me was the lack of a clear perspective. For all the TwitPics of busted windows and black-clad protestors, there were no accounts of how many windows were really broken and how many protestors were throwing bricks.

There is too much reporting on the ‘what’, and not enough of the ‘why’, ‘who’ and ‘how’.

The last bastion of solid, in-depth reporting is news magazines like Maclean’s, the Walrus, and the New Yorker. Their production schedules force them to go deep, and play to that strength, since there’s no way they can be first.

When I’m feeling like reading some good journalism, the articles that get bookmarked or put into the genius Instapaper iPhone app (it strips away all the ads and saves articles and blog posts in a readable format to read later) are tending to be longer and longer. Nothing compares to an article by a reporter who has had months to research its subject.

The downside of this kind of writing is that it’s expensive. The cost of sending a writer to remote locations to interview important people can be prohibitive, but the payoff can be huge. For example, Rolling Stone gained lots of readership for their feature on General Stanley McChrystal. The article resulted in President Obama relieving him of his command of American forces in Afghanistan.

Newspapers are allotting a huge proportion of their resources to live-blogs and Twitter but are fighting a losing battle--other people are doing it for free. If newspapers were to stick to what they’re good at, the outcome might be a higher quality product and a more engaged readership.

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