The Blog

At What Point Does News Break Too Fast?

In publishing, social media on Monday, 17 March 2008 at 22:27

Scott Karp has an interesting and thoughtful post up on the coverage of the Bear Stearns collapse. He uses the fast-moving story (breaking on a Sunday, no less!) to highlight the advantages of the Web versus print for breaking news. But while I agree with most of what Scott has to say in his post, he loses me here:

“The problem with following the Bear Stearns story on the web is that traditional news brand sites are too conflicted between serving print readers and serving web readers…”

Really? The New York Times homepage was updated throughout the day on Sunday and into Monday. And the paper, well, the paper published the most up to date stories it could given the realities deadlines of the daily miracle that is the big-city newspaper. What’s the problem exactly? Those of us who get our news on the Web got a constantly updated story, well reported and well told. And the folks for whom the paper remains a primary resource got EXACTLY what they expect to get.

According to Karp: “News … has a narrative, a story arc that it is often very instructive to follow. The New York Times has a wealth of reporting that covers a story as it unfolds — but the homepage is useless for looking at the story arc.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but (and I mean this literally) who cares?

We’re all familiar by now with the advantages of the Web versus print on a fast-moving story like this. Karp seems to be arguing that the traditional press — nastier folks than Scott would sneer derisively at the mainstream media — can’t get us there. But for the vast majority of people, the old-school media brands most certainly can, and do, get us there. To be clear, I’m certainly not suggesting that there isn’t a place for bloggers and crowdsourcing and all of the other terrific resources we have at our disposal for the gathering and disseminating information. Of course there is. But I believe that for most people, on the day, the volume, presentation, and speed of coverage of a story like Bear Stearns provided by the Times or the Wall Street Journal is ample. Anything more seems like drinking from a fire hose.

Of course, some people are really, really thirsty when it comes to news. I’d posit that there are basically two groups looking for more/better/faster: industry-types with some sort of direct vested interest in the outcome of the story, and information junkies. Now, are these groups worth catering to on news? You bet. Look no further than the mayor of New York City to know how lucrative it can be: Michael Bloomberg became a multi-billionaire on the back of providing breaking news on a specific topic (bond prices) to a specific audience (traders).

But for most of us, the minute-to-minute details of bond prices, or the Bear Stearns debacle for that matter, are more than we need. In the end, we want to know what’s happening, we want to trust the source, and we want to move on with our lives.

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  1. Agree completely…
    It’s hard to understand why anybody would care about the “story arc” in most cases. And in cases where the arc is relevant (e.g., Election Night 2000), it’s included in articles about a subject, regardless of medium. So if you went to the NY Times homepage on the morning after the election, it explained how the events unfolded throughout the night and how the players reacted to events on the basis of the information that was available at any point in time. It was not necessary to capture screenshots every 15 minutes in order to gather this information.

    Scott wrote: “The homepage is still operating like a print newspaper, capturing a moment in time.”

    What’s wrong with that? The important thing is that, at any point in time, I’m getting the *latest* moment in time – and for late-breaking stories, I can easily get that from the nytimes.com. Why do I care about how the issue was reported in the context of available information 12 hours prior? Unless I was a media critic, it’s useless. The information would actually seem more relevant to academics than news junkies…

  2. Thanks for the thoughts, Gabe. To be clear, I do think there is value in the varied views and timing of the “story arc” — for a hard-core subset of the news-consuming universe. But for most people, on most stories, the top-line is enough.

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