There is a reason why dozens (if not hundreds) of residents don’t read the daily newspaper. There is a reason more people read it online than in print.
That reason, in part, is because of the lack of investigative and hard news reporting. Much of the news today is soft news, yesterday’s news, news that is so inconsequential that it is no wonder why people comment it is fluff.
This is not a rant against a particular daily rag but against all of them. Whether due to advertising or history, there is a reason why newspapers circulate daily and not weekly. Why do articles tend to answer the What? more frequently than the Why? Granted investigative reporting can not occur every 24 hours, but what about once a week?
The Hamster Wheel isn’t speed; it’s motion for motion’s sake. The Hamster Wheel is volume without thought. It is news panic, a lack of discipline, an inability to say no…. But it’s more than just mindless volume. It’s a recalibration of the news calculus. Of the factors that affect the reporting of news, an under-appreciated one is the risk/reward calculation that all professional reporters make when confronted with a story idea: How much time versus how much impact?
This informal vetting system is surprisingly ruthless and ultimately efficient for one and all. The more time invested, the bigger the risk, but also the greater potential glory for the reporter, and the greater value to the public (can’t forget them!). Do you fly to Chicago to talk to that guy about that thing? Do you read that bankruptcy examiner’s report? Or do you do three things that are easier?
Journalists will tell you that where once newsroom incentives rewarded more deeply reported stories, now incentives skew toward work that can be turned around quickly and generate a bump in Web traffic. . . .
None of this is written down anywhere, but it’s real. The Hamster Wheel, then, is investigations you will never see, good work left undone, public service not performed.
How many daily news reporters in your community write for the web? Is traffic ever a consideration in which story is assigned and which is reported? Are headlines optimized for search engines? Or, do editors and reporters run up and down the Hamster Wheel with no end in sight?
How often do reporters walk? How often do reporters talk?
Chances are, your local reporter prefers to talk the easy way out because walking to find a story is so damned expensive.
Your answers to these questions, most likely, are unfortunately more similar than different. And that’s a shame.
Ari Herzog is the Principal of Digital AH, providing services in digital media auditing, marketing, and training.
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