Showing Up Is Only Part of the News Media Battle

The decision about which news stories media outlets cover live has been front and center in the wake of Monday’s press conference with one of Herman Cain’s accusers, Sharon Bialek, and her lawyer, Gloria Allred. So naturally it was the first topic of discussion for a panel of news editors, reporters and marketers from The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and CNN.

They spoke at PRWeek’s NeXT conference in New York on Tuesday, where they also debated the merits of being first to break news and the challenge of adapting to a more news savvy but overloaded audience.

As for the press conference, Janet Rollé, CNN’s CMO, explained, “So far the story had only been told from Herman Cain’s perspective, and we wanted the audience to decide for themselves.” For Terence Samuel, deputy political editor at The Washington Post, the decision was simple. “We covered Monday’s press conference because it was news.”

Michael Calderone, senior media reporter at The Huffington Post, watched the press conference live-streamed on TMZ, since as he wryly noted, “their political coverage can’t be beat.” He added, “I’m not sure why Fox and MSNBC didn’t cover it. Maybe they thought the story was already saturated.”

Being first to break news was less important for the marketer on the panel. “CNN’s bread and butter is breaking news, but being first is an obsession that is less valuable now,” Rollé said. “I’d trade being first for being the source of choice. After Osama Bin Laden’s death, we found that while viewers may have initially heard about the news elsewhere, they turned to CNN to verify it, so they want news from a source that matters.”

Both journalists believe a combination of factors is necessary when pursuing news stories. “You need to get the news first, get it right and be trusted,” Samuel said. “That’s how hard we have to work to keep our readers involved.” Calderone concurred, and added, “as a reporter you still want bragging rights to be first to break the news and get the scoop. At the same time, we need the context to provide an original take on the story. It used to be that the follow-up story was done the next day, but now that story has to be done within a few hours.”

A rapidly evolving and influential audience is making the news business even tougher. “The consumers now are voting with their remotes and their mobile devices about what news matters and how long it matters,” Rollé observed. “So the news cycle is also determined by consumers’ interest.” Samuel noted, “The media has not necessarily changed as much as the audience has. Now we’re dealing with a level of wisdom or information overload that we didn’t have twenty-five years ago.”