‘Hamsterization’: The Official Term for What the Internet Has Done to Journalism

Matthew Lasar at Ars Technica writes about the fact that the Federal Communications Commission has come up with a term for the “ever growing set of digital duties” that journalists must perform: “hamsterization.” He asks: “Hey there newspaper reporter—has your broadband-powered job got you filing not only conventional stories, but blogging, video blogging, Facebooking, podcasting, picture posting, and Tweeting?”

If you answered yes, you are not alone. The FCC notes in its just released report on The Information Needs of Communities that “these additional responsibilities—and having to learn the new technologies to execute them—are time-consuming, and come at a cost.” Journalists now “typically face rolling deadlines as they post to their newspaper’s website before, and after, writing print stories.”

These “rolling deadlines” is where the hamster wheel metaphor comes in. The observation was first made by Dean Starkman in a Columbia Journalism Review piece titled “The Hamster Wheel.” Lasar writes:

The “Hamster Wheel” isn’t about speed, the report quotes Starkman as saying. “It’s motion for motion’s sake… volume without thought. It is news panic, a lack of discipline, an inability to say no.”

Journalists complain that where newsrooms used to reward in-depth stories, “now incentives skew toward work that can be turned around quickly and generate a bump in Web traffic.”

We have no idea what the FCC plans to do about this. But at the very least,  it’s nice to be acknowledged.