Monday, December 22, 2008

The need for speed

By now everyone in the world has written about Twitter and the Denver plane crash Saturday night.

But from earthquakes and Mumbai, we already knew Twitter can break news.

Let's move on to the next headline: Twitter and links to live information can make newspaper websites look horribly slow, in these days of tight newspaper staffing.

This isn't a little inside dirty newspaper secret: Readers everywhere are seeing the problems. Local newspapers and websites must retain an old-fashioned commitment to speed to retain any credibility with audiences.

If there's a plane wreck or other big breaking news in our town, on a lightly staffed Saturday night or any night, we have to own it and remember the world is watching our coverage, in real time.

I was working in the Charlotte newsroom Saturday night and watching Twitter. The first our newsroom heard about the crash was a Tweet from Ryan Sholin. It alerted us to be prepared for remakes of pages and to watch for clear, reliable information coming out of Denver. But that information was painfully slow.

A couple of intriguing side notes: Readers appear to expect a high level of quality, speed and accuracy from newspaper websites, as if those sites are public utilities, even when they're getting the information for free. And as Ryan Sholin noted in a Tweet Saturday night, now the whole world gets to watch and try to figure out what's true during the early confusing scanner and live reports of breaking news. Newspapers have the experience to know initial reports are often wrong, and we can use that experience to help guide others through the firehose of live information.

What follows are some comments from the Denver Post's initial online story.

I hope everyone is alright, but why would the Denver Post allow spelling and grammatical errors in articles posted on the web? It is painful to read news articles like this.

It's hours after this occurred, and this is all you have posted?
The Rocky, Channel 4, 7 and 9 ALL have much more complete stories. Is this what we have to look forward to when you're the only paper in town? Sad.

Three hours after this plane crash occurred, and you've got a total of five sentences posted, and some of it is gramatically suspect. This is why journalism, especially print journalism, is dying. Meanwhile aviation-oriented websites from to to are reporting this story with speed and enthusiasm -- if you want to know what's going on, go there. I guess the "professional journalists" aren't as vital as they think. Tonight they seem to not even be working.

John, that's why newspapers are dying. It takes longer to put out news in a paper than you can get on TV or the Internet.

Man, some of the people here sure do expect a lot from a newspaper that is providing it's services at no cost to any of you.
If you notice a grammatical or spelling error, why don't you email someone at the paper and let them know? Or were you all those annoying kids in elementary school that when the teacher asked a question you would shoot your hand up yelling "OOOOOH! OOOOH! I KNOW, I KNOW! OOH! OOOOH!"
Get over yourselves.


Social Engineering said...

Wow, OK, had the story from Denver, but did they have anything useful about local Charlotte sports, metro activities, or other world events? NO.

The need for speed is devastating our cultural literacy. It introduces errors, increases retractions, creates havoc, reduces the quality of reporting to nothing but rumors and opinion. THAT is what's sad.

-30- said...

What is wrong with expecting quick, accurate news updates? Does a reporter's arrival at the Big Daily suddenly mean that "old-fashioned" breaking-news Journalism is no longer part of the job?

As far as I'm concerned part of the job is being able to file quick, accurate reports from the field. If you can't spell them correctly or can't correct them in a timely manner, are you even in the right line of work?

As for the confusion, that's what happens during breaking news. That's why "experienced" reporters, and ones on the scene, are so important. Reporters (and photographers) who know the agencies, understand the mechanics of how they operate and can get out on the scene are invaluable at times like this... or are they the ones that took buyouts?

It's what separates professional Journalism from "user generated content".

Finally, the notion that there should be some kind of slack offered because a paper's breaking news coverage is "provided at no cost to [the reader]" is nothing short of appalling. That's the business we are in: public service journalism. We happen to sell ads on the pages to make some money and, hopefully, by virtue of our superior news coverage you'll return time and time again because you'll know we'll always have the story.

Except in Denver.