In Defense Of Slow News
from the a-hot-take-on-hot-takes dept
Many years back, I remember seeing Michael Arrington, the founder of TechCrunch, being interviewed about that site (which at the time was on its way to becoming the first “mainstream” tech news blog). I’m paraphrasing, and possibly misremembering, but what stuck with me was that he suggested that, as a blog, you basically had to focus on one of three things to succeed: being first, being funny, or being insightful. And he had chosen “being first” as the strategy for TechCrunch — trying to break news as quickly as possible. And while that makes sense as a business strategy if you can do it, it had absolutely no appeal to me for how we ran Techdirt. We always hoped to focus on adding more insight into various issues, than breaking news. That’s not to say we don’t break news every so often, but it’s certainly not the focus.
Last Thursday, I published a long post about the whole question of internet platforms cutting off certain users. While the actual title of the story was Platforms, Speech And Truth: Policy, Policing And Impossible Choices, it had a different title on our social media feeds:
You Kept Asking For A Post About Alex Jones And Internet Platforms, So Here It Is https://t.co/Kf9hkSwrRB
— techdirt (@techdirt) August 9, 2018
If you can’t read that, it says, “You Kept Asking For A Post About Alex Jones And Internet Platforms, So Here It Is.” That was, in part, because while the various bans for Alex Jones all happened on Monday, our post didn’t go up until Thursday. And, as I noted in the post, I had actually begun writing the larger post before the Jones’ bans were put in place, but rather in response to a different brouhaha over a Mark Zuckerberg interview in July, where he said he didn’t want to ban Holocaust deniers from his platform.
And yet, we had a number of people in our comments and on social media asking why we weren’t writing about it. Sometimes those demands were done snarkily, suggesting we somehow were hiding from the subject. Sometimes they were asked legitimately. Some people seemed to take offense to the fact that we were working on other stories, as if we should drop everything to write about content moderation choices.
But, for years here on Techdirt, I’ve had a pretty strong belief in the value of “slow news.” That is, I think I take the opposite approach to the one that Arrington talked about all those years ago. Being first may have benefits in the race for traffic and clicks. But I’m not so sure it really adds value to society. As we’ve seen over and over again, the quick take — or the “hot take” — often gets key things wrong. If you have real news to break, that’s great, but it would seem to usually fall into one of two camps: a story that everyone is going to know about soon enough… or a story that you have exclusively. And, in both cases, there’s little reason for us to rush out a story in those cases. If everyone’s going to have it, then we might as well wait a bit to actually make sure all the details are really known and understood. And if there’s an exclusive, then why not take your time to make sure you fully understand it as well.
I know that in the traditional news business, there’s a premium put on “breaking news” and “exclusive!” type stories, but I’d rather put a premium on more thorough analysis that actually understands these issues. It’s what we’ve always tried to do, even if we don’t always succeed. Indeed, even when we write on key breaking stories, we’ll quite often sit on a completed post for at least 24 hours before putting it on the site, just to see how things shake out and if the initial “breaking” details are really accurate. I’ve found that that allows us to post more thoughtful and careful posts in the long run.
Again, this has long been our internal policy, but I thought it might be useful to publish it publicly, so that people understand why we might not immediately write about the hot topic of the day, and may wait until we’ve had more time to understand it, and think through an analysis that maybe others covering the story didn’t provide.