News Journalism: Get the story out as fast as possible, never mind everything else!

“Slow but steady wins the race”, as Aesop once famously said.

Well, there’s none of that here in the rapidly changing world of news journalism. News is new. By which I mean, brand new. If someone’s read a story once, they’re not going to read it again somewhere else. To keep it short and (not so) sweet, if your company isn’t the first to publish a story, you’re out of the ‘race’.

No one picks up their favourite newspaper anymore and relies on that as their single source for happenings around the world. Look at the people walking down the street, on public transport and in coffee shop windows and you won’t be surprised to see everyone transfixed by the screens in their hands. Where do we get our news? Online, of course.

*Cue the hares scrabbling for first place*

The Online News Story

It’s true that there has always been fierce competition in news journalism. Every budding journalist knows the importance of being the first to get the scoop. But, with news moving swiftly onto the World Wide Web, competition to be the first to release a story has stepped up a good few notches. And let’s face it, print journalism doesn’t even get a look in.

The beauty of the internet is that anyone can be a publisher. The flip side of that coin: well, literally anyone and everyone can say whatever they like. People can write misleading things, provide false information and even invent news, a whole lot more easily than they can in print journalism. News no longer has to come from a newspaper or even a media company at all. That can make it all the more difficult to verify sources and get the story straight before it’s broadcast for everyone’s eyes.

Essentially, the competition’s got tougher because the number of competitors has skyrocketed. These days I, like half of all users, get my news from Twitter. It’s easy to scroll through the headlines, pick up on any story I like and see what other people think. Social media is seemingly, one of the race’s newest and most serious contenders.

“About 70 percent of the country is on Facebook, with an estimated 600 million people getting news directly from the social media platform.”
— Devansh Mehta, Colombian Journalism Review

After all, news needs to be instantaneous. And what better way to get instant news than on an instantly updating app that’s instantly in our hands as soon as we’ve hit cancel on the snooze alarm. Even comparatively young social media sites such as Snapchat, are gaining on news sites at impressive speed, despite delivering news not being their primary function.

A story at whatever the cost

As I and probably all of us have learnt at some point in our lives: when everything’s a last minute rush, something’s got to give. The shift from print to online news has meant that journalists are required to prioritise the speed of getting a story published over everything else. And I think it’s fair to say that a few aspects of the traditional journalistic story, have gone down the pan because of it…

The NUJ Code of conduct states that journalists should strive to be accurate and fair. But, when you’re trying to get a story out before anyone else in the world, what should be a straightforward task becomes a damn near impossible one. More likely than ever to go against their code of ethics by reporting false information, failing to source check and depending on unreliable sources, journalists are now writing news stories with, in my opinion, questionable news content.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The sad reality is, if you try too hard and focus on getting your facts 100% straight, you won’t come out in poll position. Striving to be the fastest is having a serious impact on the quality of reporting. Long gone is the importance of language, grammar, structure and how well the story is written. Dull facts and spelling errors spewed onto a page, coupled with a picture of one of the members of the Kardashian family, and you’ve just about got all you need for online readers to deem it ‘newsworthy’ (yes, we’re looking at you, Daily Mail).

There is no indication of how or when online journalism might change its aims in the future. But, with the forward moving, ever-changing demands of readers and news on the web, I for one, will remain optimistic that journalism won’t always be a constant juggling act of speed, accuracy and ethical reporting.

For now though, journalists look set to continue in their publishing race, where there isn’t a tortoise in sight.

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