Category Archives: News routines and processes

Getting It Right AND Getting It Fast

As our news cycle accelerates to warp speed with the rise of Twitter and other always-on social networking devices, there is considerable hand-wringing among the responsible journalist and academic communities.

Is our rush-to-publish mentality spreading rumor and falsehood and eroding our core values?

I’d say maybe not, or the more classic academic “it depends.”  I’m in agreement with Jake Sherlock, assistant professor at the University of Missouri and Columbia Missourian editor, in a thoughtful post he wrote about immediacy and accuracy, here.

Jake writes about a sports reporter who found out what bowl game Mizzou would be playing in via the Twitter account of one of the top players three hours before it was officially announced by the university. There was spirited debate in the newsroom as to whether that information should be published or even retweeted until it was confirmed elsewhere.

I agree with Jake that there’s nothing wrong with retweeting this information and telling readers what you know, how you know it, and that you are currently seeking confirmation. When you have confirmation or lack thereof, change the story immediately.

As I tell my students nearly every day, getting it right is the MOST important thing we do. In fact, that’s a reoccurring quiz question  throughout the semester – I want that phrase emblazoned on their brains.  In my view, getting it right should always trump getting it first, but I’m not so sure in the digital age those two things are mutually exclusive.

Really, it comes down to transparency, and letting readers judge for themselves the evidence of truth and falsehood. It strikes me as just a hair patronizing or dismissive of our readers’ intelligence to assume that they can’t handle being part of the sometimes messy news process.  For example, there was some consternation when it turned out that most major news organizations were wrong and the Fort Hood shooter was still alive. I’m not sure I was harmed by the fact that these news organizations cited a presumably reliable source in reporting that he was dead, and then later widely corrected themselves. It’s not ideal, but now we aren’t doing all of our work behind closed doors, hiding in the shadows anymore. Verification is a public project, and often it’s all the better for it because it gives others more and faster ways to correct us.

Now, obviously, there are some stories, particularly those that might damage someone’s reputation, in which it makes sense to not publish until every last detail has been nailed down. However, even in those cases, if every other media outlet is running with the rumors, it actually might make more ethical and journalistic sense to let the readers know that the claims they may have heard elsewhere are unverified but that you are working on the story. That tells them a lot about your process and your concern for the truth and also makes it clear what is rumor and what is not in a world where that’s getting harder to differentiate. This isn’t a new idea or unique to me; it’s one of the things Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel discuss in the book Elements of Journalism.

Finally, being part of the news and verification process is exciting. It gives you a feeling of ownership in what is produced,and maybe it could help us to build engagement with our communities. Maybe it’s just because I’m a former journalist, but I find myself glued to Twitter when there is breaking news because it reminds me a little bit of that buzz you get working in the newsroom when something big goes down – people are asking questions, trying to determine what is known, sharing tidbits, etc. Nobody pretends to have all the answers but everybody is trying to nail them down.


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Unharnessed from daily print routine, can you build a more relevant site?

Christian Science Monitor Editor John Yemma speaks to AEJMC attendees

Christian Science Monitor Editor John Yemma speaks to AEJMC attendees

Christian Science Monitor editor John Yemma said that’s been the case at his paper since its print publication cycle was reduced from daily to weekly in March of this year. (Apologies for crappy iPhone photo.)

Speaking to journalism professors at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference in Boston two weeks ago, Yemma said that the paper’s Web site was seeing 25 percent more traffic than a year ago.

Academic research on journalism has long shown that routines – the processes surrounding the production of the proverbial daily miracle on your doorstep each morning – have a profound impact on the kind of news produced.

The need to get a predictable flow of news on deadline helps explain, for example, the preponderance of official or institutional sources in the news despite most journalist’s espoused commitment to stay connected with “regular folks.” These sources are often easily accessible via consistent means (e.g. police reports) on deadline.

My own research has found that even in newsrooms committed to change, print routines get in the way of innovation and give people a sense they are struggling to serve two masters — but are largely necessary to maintain as long as the paper comes out each morning.

Yemma said that instead of spending each day focused primarily on moving along what the editors believe are the best stories to completion, the Monitor can now be more nimble and flexible, breaking short items of news and being attentive to the kinds of topics that are currently getting a lot of buzz on the Web.

Often, these tend to be stories more focused on conflict or controversy, he added, and sometimes some of the editing process occurs post-publication.

In the meantime, the weekly print edition gives staff more time to develop on weighty, in-depth stories.

Bill Mitchell of Poynter also wrote about Yemma’s talk. Read it here.

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The New “Press-Sphere”?

Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine wrote a post yesterday that I liked on what he calls the new “press-sphere” and wanted to call attention to for those that haven’t seen it.

As my previous posts suggest, I tend to be fundamentally and unapologetically a traditionalist who believes that (gasp) the majority of those who work in the dreaded mainstream media (I reserve the right to exempt some of what passes for cable “news” when I say this) still play a critical role in a democratic society and do very important, difficult work — and that more often than not, they do it pretty well (with plenty of room for improvement, yes).

I’d like to think that this isn’t an entirely elitist or Lippmann-esque view. I’m all for regular folks getting into the act of journalism, which I define as a method of verifying and transparently presenting information (following from the Bible of journalism, Elements) that you don’t need any special credentials to use. I simply remain suspicious of citizen journalism because I’m not sure that people who don’t get paid to do what is the often time-consuming and thankless work of reporting and editing are truly, when it all settles out, going to end up picking up much of the slack left by the devastating layoffs of their paid counterparts.

So although I’m not sure I would marginalize the traditional press as much as Jarvis does in his many clever graphic representations of new ways of thinking about the media today, I do think that he’s got some good ideas here…especially good for visual thinkers (I’m a word person myself, but even I can appreciate a good drawing sometimes).

Basically, he is arguing here that the news process is no longer a linear one in which journalists produce stories to be consumed by passive audiences, but rather one in which news production has become a long, messy, continuous, interactive process. (Personally, I think that there is still a role for the art of “storytelling” in all of this, but that’s another post.)

I posted one representation that I particularly like below, but check out his post for more. I think this is interesting because it depicts a very polychronic way of viewing time in the news production process rather than monochronic as is currently typical of most news routines, as I’ve written about before, citing MIT organizational culture guru Edgar Schein (2004). Newsrooms are currently set up in ways in which news is a defined product that moves through a series of boxes (reporter, assigning editor, copy desk, etc. etc.). As newsrooms think about new ways to restructure their work processes, these diagrams may be instructive.

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