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. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 30 Jun 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 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.

    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

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