Black Media Scoop breaking News
As I was nursing my 50th cappuccino in Perugia during the recent journalism conference there, a small bomb blew up in my Twitter feed thanks to a keynote presentation by Felix Salmon, in which the former Reuters blogger said that the journalistic obsession with scoops is a form of masturbation. Needless to say, there were some shocked reactions to this statement, but I think Felix is right -— even if the metaphor he chose is somewhat unappealing.
As he describes in his own post about it, what Salmon said was that “breaking news is the most masturbatory thing journalists do. The reader couldn’t give a flying f*** who broke it.” In other words, the question of who breaks the news about a specific story is largely irrelevant to anyone other than the journalists involved.
This is almost certainly true. In general, regular news consumers want someone to tell them when a news event occurs, but they don’t necessarily care who tells them —- it could be a friend on Twitter or Facebook, or a radio announcer, or a person on the street —- nor do they really notice who told them first. But I would argue that many do notice one thing: they notice who told them something correct, or more importantly something useful or true about that event.
The half-life of a scoop is dwindling
In a response to Felix’s comment, Emily Bell of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University said that both scoops and useful information matter, which of course is also true. Ideally, the two things work together, and news organizations want to have plenty of both if they can manage it. But I think in general we’re going through a period of upheaval in which the latter is becoming much more important than the former, and this will likely continue for the foreseeable future.
It’s not easy for journalists or news organizations to give up the obsession with being first —- even for newspapers, who have by now gotten used to TV and radio being the first to report many things. After all, the news business is called that because it is primarily about what is new, and so as a journalist if you aren’t telling people something that just happened, it feels like you aren’t doing your job (“We’re writing news, not history!” an old editor of mine used to shout while chomping a cigar, J. Jonah Jameson style).
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