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?

Filed Under: first, healthcare, hot news, scoop, scotus, traffic
Companies: cnn, fox news, reddit

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  1. icon
    TtfnJohn (profile), 29 Jun 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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