The relentless news landscape of micro scoops can swallow up even the most reputable news organizations and journalists. This afternoon in the increasingly self-referential world of media reportage, The New Republic's Amy Sullivan criticized the industry's rising obsession with breaking news first in her piece, Who Reported It First? Who Cares.
Sullivan argues that the race to report breaking news first is "often the main factor driving it." Of course, the prime example is the CNN/Fox News Supreme Court verdict debacle last month. Sullivan's claims that speed is hurting journalism are noteworthy given the continued acceleration of the newscycle and the nitpicky toxicity of the social echo chamber. Yet even she notes that when it comes to slowing down the news cycle, "it will never happen."
Adweek reached out to a few journalists who have made a name for being fast and accurate for their reactions to Sullivan's piece and their feelings on the journalistic culture of micro scoops.
Ben Smith, editor in chief of BuzzFeed told Adweek that micro scoops are simply a product of great beat reporting, and that a good news organization will always strive to get news as quickly and accurately as possible:
"Scoops matter, in part, because they are typically a product of being deeply sourced in your beat, and good beat reporters get them almost as a by-product of good beat reporting. Being first to report the Supreme Court ruling isn't a scoop, technically — it's just a matter of conveying information accurately and efficiently, which is also our job. Bloomberg deserves credit for being right and first. That isn't easy, as other outlets showed. This doesn't mean great explanatory reporting — or for that matter, great poetry — don't matter. That's a false choice. But often the great explanatory reporting comes from people whose deep connection to their beat also gives them a steady stream of scoops."
Reuters' Anthony De Rosa, known for his contributions to Reuters' social media and innovative newsgathering, noted that speed is crucial at a wire service:
"As it applies to my business, seconds and scoops do matter, even if they're not 'real scoops.' Many people are trading based on information they can be first to act upon, and if we can provide it first that can mean significant dollars won or lost. A lot of journalists may say they don't care, but at places like Reuters it really does matter if you're first, and more importantly, accurate."
Similarly, an editor at a major wire service noted: "It's complex. Sometimes we have big breaking scoops that we have to hold for a little while because of legal, copy issues, etc. But once all those factors are green lighted, speed is the name of the game. If I'm slow, I'm not doing my job."
Failing to move at the frenetic pace of the news cycle can have a serious impact on the careers of many younger journalists who are making names for themselves by breaking these scooplets every day. New York Times reporter Brian Stelter has become a minor celebrity on Twitter with his "standby for news" tweets, which attract equal parts respect and snarky commentary from journalists.
At an Internet Week panel last May, both he and fellow Times reporter David Carr weighed in on the micro scoop culture with Stelter telling the audience, "I keep telling myself not to care about the microscoops." Veteran journalist Carr told the crowd: "Consumers don't even know where the news came from. Scoops are fleeting points of pride for the reporters only. The race to be first, especially in commodity news, is not nutritiously advantageous to readers."
After the publication of Sullivan's piece, the discussion naturally broke out on Twitter, where speed-obsessed journalists like Business Insider's deputy editor Joe Weisenthal weighed in. He pretty much summed up how many in the blogging and online writing world live through the 24-second news cycle with the following tweet:
Is a debate really happening about whether speed matters? NEWFLASH: News is a game of Galaga. You just effin' keep blasting fast all day.
— Joseph Weisenthal (@TheStalwart) July 9, 2012