Healthcare, Journalism, And The Mad Dash For 'The Scoop'

from the getting-back-to-insights dept

As you may have heard, when the Supreme Court came out with its ruling on healthcare, CNN and Fox News jumped the gun and incorrectly reported that the Court had struck down the individual mandate. Fox News corrected the mistake pretty quickly. CNN took a bit longer (and spread the false "breaking news" story far and wide). The whole thing even had President Obama confused for a little while.

It was, of course, also great for late night television. People are referring to this as cable news' "Dewey defeats Truman" moment, while others are arguing that "breaking news is broken." Of course, being a part of the "blogging" world which is often accused by "old media" types of publishing untrue things... there is some element of schadenfreude in being able to see it made clear that the mainstream media is often no better at publishing incorrect things. Of course, some tried to flip this around, and suggest that the problem actually came about because of "new media" thinking around things like "process journalism," though there's a strong argument that reporting before reading something isn't process journalism, it's just bad journalism (i.e., process journalism is about reporting things as additional news comes out -- but in this case, the news was out, the problem was people reporting it before reading it).

A few years ago, uber-blogger Mike Arrington said something that has quite a lot of truth to it: to get attention as an online media player, you generally have to be first, funny or insightful -- and being first is often the easiest, so lots of people concentrate on that. It's the chase for "the scoop." Being funny is powerful, but very, very difficult. And... being insightful takes a lot of time and effort, and is no guarantee of attention. Generally speaking, our goal here has never been to be first with news (in fact, we often wait for others to publish so that we can link to their reports in what we write up). Personally, I like that much better. Focusing just on "the scoop" may be good for traffic in the short term, but especially for big stories like this one, I'm not sure how much value it creates in the long term.

Of course, the realities of gaining traffic often support the quick "scoop" over deeper insight. For example, Reddit -- a potential major firehose of traffic these days -- has its algorithm designed to reward quick, early votes, meaning that longer, thoughtful, insightful pieces almost have no chance, because by the time people have read and thought through them, it's "too late" to have the votes really count.

Some will argue, of course, that this is just a sign of the "bad" side of the internet: valuing quick, dirty and sometimes wrong reporting over longer, more thoughtful work. But I'm not convinced that's true. Again, there are plenty of historical examples of this in pre-internet times as well -- with Dewey Beats Truman being just one of many such examples.

Instead of just mocking those who messed up, or using a bit of confirmation bias to insist that it shows how awful things are in this "real time era," I'd be much more interested to see if we could have a discussion on how to change the incentives. How do we better reward insight and thoughtful commentary over the quick hit-scoop? Is it possible? And, if so, what needs to be done?


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Lorpius Prime (profile), Jun 29th, 2012 @ 6:01pm

    How about...

    New patent application: A Method and System for Creating, Storing, and Retrieving Inaccurate Information Regarding Breaking News Events Within a Multimedia Environment.

    Pros: It's hilarious. And every time a news outlet screws up, it's a lawyers'-fees and statutory-damages lawsuit bonanza!

    Cons: News outlets might actually pay the extortionate license fees rather than improve their reporting.

     

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    Prashanth (profile), Jun 29th, 2012 @ 6:01pm

    Just to be meta about this post

    FIRST (or not, maybe?)!

     

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  3.  
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    Prashanth (profile), Jun 29th, 2012 @ 6:02pm

    Re: Just to be meta about this post

    (Apparently not.)

     

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    Beech, Jun 29th, 2012 @ 6:03pm

    Personally, I don't care who breaks a story first. It's not like I'm switching between CNN and FOX back and forth all day, waiting to see where I get to see which story first. Where I work the TV in the break room is perma-tuned to CNN, so I get to see the schlock they try to pass off as news on my breaks every day. I mean, sure, it was nice to hear that the whole health care thing happened, but my break is at 11. So it matters not a whit to me if Fox broke the story 3 seconds earlier on another channel.

    I'd say the "new rewards" are already in place. I suffer through CNN at work, and gave up on the local paper ages ago. I get my news from sites like this. Niche sites that talk about things that I care about. So the "reward" of my eyeballs goes to the sites that have thought provoking commentary on stories I care about, not sites that blast the 24 hr news cycle crammed full of puff pieces. The payoff on the internet comes from talking about things that people want to hear about, not releasing a mostly "truthy" blurb about any given celebrity's personal life .0325 seconds before the other guy.

     

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    Flix (profile), Jun 29th, 2012 @ 6:09pm

    How do we better reward insight and thoughtful commentary over the quick hit-scoop?
    This would be as big an endeavor as trying to reduce healthcare costs by shifting the incentive structure: rewarding providers based on the results they achieve, not on how many tests/procedures they do.

     

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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 29th, 2012 @ 6:18pm

    Heh.

    People are referring to this as cable news' "Dewey defeats Truman" moment, while others are arguing that "breaking news is broken."

    And has been for many decades...

     

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    pr, Jun 29th, 2012 @ 6:31pm

    The media get worked up about "first" and "exclusive." I don't care about either, I care more about "timely" and "accurate."

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 29th, 2012 @ 6:39pm

    Re:

    I think you nailed it. What is the demographic that takes news on the tv seriously? I'd say most of them are over 60 and uncomfortable with the internet. Traditional news organizations are in the same place that most of hollywood finds itself in; they have not evolved and are resisting any form of evolving. That's why they want pay sites, copyrights for linking to articles, etc. They are putting nails in their coffin.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 29th, 2012 @ 7:33pm

    Re: Re: Just to be meta about this post

    oh... I thought you were going for "Funny"...

     

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    TtfnJohn (profile), Jun 29th, 2012 @ 7:42pm

    Re: Re:

    There are people of any age who will respond to something as if it's inviolate truth BECAUSE they heard/saw it on CNN/FOX or whatever. Not all of them are over 60 or anywhere near that. (And what have we older farts done to get your generalization??? If anything we are more mistrustful of mass media than others because we've seen them lie and screw up so much. We just can't work up the outrage anymore. We've come to expect it.)

    So called process journalism works when it understands the process it's reporting on and understands it. Judicial rulings aren't written in an inverted pyramid style but the reporters sure reacted as if it had been. Roberts was still into his description of the problem(s) and issue(s) the Court faced before he got to the ruling which was much further in. I guess you'd call it process judiciary though the style has been around for hundreds of years so you'd think a reporter would understand that. I guess not.

    Rulings start with the legal issue(s) presented, the correction(s) requested and then makes its way to the ruling. And then they go on to repeat it in depth and detail so thick you'd think you were swimming in the Alberta Tar Sands.

    The other problem that the misunderstanding(s) on FOX and CNN illustrated was that the reporters inside the court waiting for the verbal ruling were, from all appearances, not reporters who covered SCOTUS much, if at all. The reports indicate that Roberts has just gotten to the problems with the commerce take on Obamacare and that's where the untrained reporters jumped rather than waiting.

    Back to taking TV news seriously if you're 21, 41, 61 or 101 and take TV news seriously you're in trouble. Most particularly in specialty areas like science, constitutional law, trade issues and a fair sized raft of other things. Or to revive the so called "breaking news" concept AP is so hot on even if we got to see the bug screen full of holes in that one on the reporting of this ruling.

    As you hint at. They want to hide all this behind a paywall? They actually expect to be paid for monumental screwups? (Yup)

     

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    Trickster Goddess, Jun 29th, 2012 @ 7:52pm

    A "scoop" is 19th and 20th century thinking. When print was the principle means of news dissemination, if a newspaper was first to publish a story, it would be a day before its competitors could match their reporting. In the years of the Big 3 network newscasts it would still take at least the time between the 6 o'clock news and the 11 o'clock news and involved logistics of getting a cameraman out to the scene and back in time to develop the film before the newscast.

    Today, with multiple 24 hour news networks who continuously monitor each others' feeds, and the ubiquity of cameras and pro and amateur reporters in almost every corner of the country connected through a universal network, scoop time is measured in minutes.

    And then when it is something that is widely anticipated and as firmly scheduled as a SCOTUS ruling, scoop means nothing. CNN "scooped" Fox News by a mere 24 seconds. Being able to blurt out a headline half a minute before your competitors doesn't really add any real value to your coverage.

    If news networks want something that gives them an edge that lasts longer the times between gold and silver Olympic bobsled racers, I would suggest striving to compete on the accuracy of your reporting and providing context to the story.

     

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    TtfnJohn (profile), Jun 29th, 2012 @ 8:09pm

    Re:

    Some media brands make their living off of informed commentary, insight, investigative reporting and analysis of the news and current events. Even if I have no use for their economic or political outlook there are some that I go to for exactly that. The National Post in Canada, for the time being, the NYT in the United States, for electronic media it's the BBC, the one news magazine I bother reading anymore is The Economist.

    The National Post is rabidly, droolingly right wing but it's exceptionally well written and actually gets its facts right. The Economist is also right wing, dedicated to caplitalism but is muted about that. Typically British that way. The Beeb tends to be leftish and also muted about it. For all that many in the USA seem to cast the NYT as leftish for those of us outside the States it's right wing and dedicated to the capitalist cause without the anger and bombast of FOX or the Tea Party.

    The strange thing is that those brands are rewarded in the long term, I left out the Wall St Journal, but they don't reach a mass audience. Conflict, anger and bombast sell...even in crafts that are supposed to be above that like journalism.

    The scoop has always sold. Even if, in this case, it's a manufactured scoop. The ruling was coming down, everyone knew that who was remotely interested. What was missing from the so-called process journalism was the education on just how these judical processes work. The final word on the ruling comes near the end, not at the beginning no matter how much journalists want judges to write in the same inverted pyramid that they write in.

    As to results based rewards in a health care system...that does actually reduce costs and the thing that's supposed to matter the most there. Patient outcome.

    In this story the patient outcome wasn't good.

     

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    TtfnJohn (profile), Jun 29th, 2012 @ 8:11pm

    Re:

    "CNN "scooped" Fox News by a mere 24 seconds"

    And both got it wrong.

     

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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Jun 29th, 2012 @ 8:35pm

    Re:

    Never happen. Insurance companies have the biggest lobby in Washington. Followed by trial lawyers. And since both of those groups benefit by defensive care that ends up killing people, it will never change.

     

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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Jun 29th, 2012 @ 8:39pm

    Re:

    It's like the old west. The fastest draw isn't the one who wins. The fastest draw who aimed well enough to hit the other guy is.

     

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    jupiterkansas (profile), Jun 29th, 2012 @ 8:46pm

    Who cares who reports first? It's who reports best.

    There's a reason I turn to sites like Techdirt and Ars Technica for news - insight, commentary, and discussion. The trolls add the humor.

    Incidentally, I found out about the court's ruling from Facebook, like most people probably did.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2012 @ 1:00am

    Remember in one of the previous posts where a usual shill claimed that journalism isn't about the news? Clearly everyone else but Techdirt thinks so.

     

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  18.  
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    Andrew D. Todd, Jun 30th, 2012 @ 4:15am

    Chief Justice Roberts Wrote an Intentionally Tricky Decision.

    The decision, as crafted by Chief Justice Roberts, works out to something like:

    "Okay this time, but don't do it again, and, please, gradually try to regularize the situation so that the controversial points are moot within ten or twenty years. In other words, gradually lower the Medicare age, and the delay in Medicare eligibility for people on Disability, removing the older and sicker people from the private insurance market, to the point that the Mandate no longer matters, and we can find against it, twenty years from now. Likewise, gradually try to move the funding of health care from employers to the progressive income tax, the same way National Defense is funded, and approximately the same way that primary and secondary education, and police and fire protection, are funded at the local level."

    His language and legal reasoning are convoluted precisely because he could not say that in so many words.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2012 @ 6:08am

    I am not going into it here. I did on Groklaw without initially realizing how many people have a heard mentality.

    I will state though that CNN and Fox first opinion was correct. The left, Obama, and ObamaCare lost big time.

    Not only did they loose big time but they have not even figured out yet, to this day, that they lost. Much less that much more than they would have lost with a decisive upfront defeat.

    For a consider ObamaCare was declared to be a tax. If ObamaCare is a tax then it is a poll tax.

    The question not decided and Roberts guaranteed that will appear before the court is:

    Can the federal government mandate a poll tax for the purpose of supporting health care?

    The 24th amendment says a state may not have a pole tax for the purpose of voting. Does this extend to paying a poll tax for health care?

    What about the federal government? Does the federal government have the authority to mandate people pay a poll tax?

    The only think that one who understands this issue can be assured of even without Roberts input is at the first opportunity someone, some group, or some state will file suit over this.

    The court drove a stake through ObamaCare as a personal mandate fee under the Commerce Clause and then declared ObamaCare not to be a fee at all but a tax. As a pole tax the issue was not before the court. No arguments had been heard as to ObamaCare being constitutional or not as a poll tax. Thus as the issue was not before the court and ObamaCare could be viewed as a tax issue by default of bringing the issue before the court ObamaCare is legal.

    No where in this is there any indication of ObamaCare as a tax issue constitutional or not.

    But we can easily speculate that if there was at least a 5 to 4 voting on ObamaCare being unconstitutional as a fee under the commerce clause that there will be at minimum a 5 to 4 decision declaring ObamaCare unconstitutional as a poll tax issue.

    Thinking in this light Obama, Reed, Pelosi, and the loony left lost big and are so ignorant hat not only do they not understand that they lost but that they have been set up for an even bigger loss all the time running around squawking their head off spouting ignorance out of how big they won.

    This is back to Avita and the biggest show in town (Burnas Aries) being the live theater before the Casa Rosa and the idiots screaming Avita while all the while their very lives were being sucked out of them by the Peronists.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2012 @ 9:26am

    Because of the economic dimensions associated with the PPACA (e.g., supply/demand), you may wish to consider an article examing its basic assumptions from an economic perspective.

     

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  21.  
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    Andrew D. Todd, Jun 30th, 2012 @ 10:13am

    A Pragmatic Court

    I have read Anonymous Coward #19's posts on Groklaw, and I am truly amazed by Pamela Jones' patience, even when AC #19 begins trotting out neo-Ayn-Rand literature he finds on Fox News. Her European and Australian guests seem bemused by the American strangeness of it all. The Supreme Court is not a computer. It is a group of six old men and three old women who use their best guess about how humans will react if they write legal decisions in a certain way. A Supreme Court decision is only moderately binding on subsequent Supreme Courts. Obviously Chief Justice Roberts made allowances because he know that the health care sector had grown to about fifteen percent of the economy, without providing a very high standard of health care either, and that devising any sort of compromise was extremely difficult, and that, consequently, the ObamaCare bill was a bit of a "dog's breakfast." Roberts accepted that he had to play the ball which was served to him, not the ball which he might have wished to have had served to him. That does not mean that he is going to take it as a precedent to rule on other issues, or as a general principle, or anything like that.

    The pseudonymous Votemaster of electoral-vote.com notes that Republicans hate the decision, Democrats love it, and Independents favor it by 45% to 42%. However, Republicans tend to live in Republican states, and Democrats tend to live in Democrat states. Independents tend to live in Swing States. The Republicans and Democrats in Swing States tend to be rather less militant than those in one-party states because they meet the other side regularly. It does not matter whether a Republican state is won by 70% or 75%, and the same for Democratic States. What matters is the Swing states, which is to say, the Independent voters. To win the election, you have to win the moderates.

    http://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2012/Pres/Maps/Jun30.html#item-1

    To get a sense of perspective, look at the Selective Service Act as it existed in the 1960's and 1970's. Under the law, each young man had a theoretical military service obligation of eight years, in combat, in Vietnam. This was of course modified by a system of exemptions and deferments, but these were acts of official grace, and no one had any right to claim such exemptions and deferments. As the law was written, in the purely logical sense, it would have conscripted about two million men a year, and maintained an army of twenty million men, about as many men as were under arms during the Second World War. What it meant in practice was that more than ten million men had to submit their job or school plans to the draft board for clearance. See, for example, Gen. Lewis Hershey's notorious "channeling memorandum." The Selective Service Act was never found unconstitutional-- it was merely suspended in operation for a couple of years, and then restored for the limited purpose of merely registering young men.

    Michael Harwood, _The Student's Guide to Military Service_, 1962
    Col. George Walton, USA (Ret.), _The Tarnished Shield: A Report on Today's Army_, 1973

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selective_Service_System

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2012 @ 10:28am

    Interesting how CNN and the anti CNN both got it wrong.
    But the truly interesting part is that the anti CNN was quicker to fix the error.

     

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    TtfnJohn (profile), Jun 30th, 2012 @ 11:59am

    Re:

    Split decisions such as this are the easiest ones to take back to a body like SCOTUS as there is always the minority opinion to base that appeal on. IF the court ever consents to hear that.

    I'd love to hear just how, in Reader's Digest form if you took up pages over at Groklaw, this tax somehow becomes a poll tax classically defined as a head tax based on census data. When I went to Groklaw I couldn't find it.

    I understand that in the USA a poll tax is often thought of as a tax paid at a polling station so that the person can vote and was often used to discourage southern blacks from voting.

     

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    Lozine, Jun 30th, 2012 @ 10:07pm

    There's really no point in the scoop if it's only a couple minutes later. The later one will probably be more revised anyways.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 2nd, 2012 @ 11:50am

    Re:

    Hail Eris!

     

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  26.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 2nd, 2012 @ 11:56am

    Re:

    For a consider ObamaCare was declared to be a tax.


    Except, of course, that it was not declared to be a tax. It was declared to be what it was always presented to be: a penalty.

    I think where you got confused is that the court ruled that the penalty was allowable under the taxing authority of the government. That doesn't however, make it a tax. If you file your taxes late and get a fine because of it, that fine is allowable because of the taxing authority of the government. Nonetheless, it is a penalty, not a tax. This is the same kind of deal.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 2nd, 2012 @ 11:59am

    Re:

    It's not that interesting. Whether it's chocolate or vanilla, it's still ice cream. Fox & CNN are far from opposites.

     

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