By Paul Wilson
Paul Wilson has worked at three daily newspapers and is a former managing editor of EveryBlock.com. He’s now regional sales manager with TownNews.com, which provides technology solutions to news publications.
Days like Thursday make me think I left daily journalism at exactly the right time — even though I did so without realizing it.
On Thursday morning, the nation was abuzz awaiting the Supreme Court ruling on President Obama’s landmark health care legislation. News outlets, armed with tools allowing them to quickly break news in ways inconceivable even 15 years ago, obsessed over whom would be the first to report (or perhaps, more accurately, repeat) the decision announced in Washington.
Shortly after 10 a.m. EDT, CNN reported that the law had been overturned. Other news outlets, notably Fox News Channel, made a similar mistake in those crazy minutes. But CNN held out longest, waiting seven minutes to pull its initial report back and (accurately) tell its viewers that the law was upheld by a 5-4 margin.
Being wrong on reporting at a key moment like that is devastating, and CNN is in turmoil as rivals mock the mistake.
Still, I can’t help but think that something like this was bound to happen in a news environment where many media organizations can’t wait seven seconds – let alone seven minutes – to get the story right. It’s possible that what happened at CNN could have happened to any news outlet or, at least, many of them. This phenomenon, no matter what you think of the technological advancements in recent years, is a problem. We’ve moved to the point where immediacy is more important than accuracy, if Thursday morning is any judge. And that’s terribly disturbing. Which brings me back to my original point …
My last newspaper byline came in March 2008 at The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio. After more than five years as a reporter and four more in student media, I signed on with a Chicago tech startup, where I would work for two years. In making the decision to leave newspapering, I was giving up a part of my identity, but, practically, it was a good decision given the struggles newspapers were facing.
I might have been more right on the practicality of leaving than I knew at the time. A few things happened shortly thereafter that seem to have changed the rules of daily journalism – I’m guessing to a point where I might not have enjoyed the work.
One big change had little to do with technology. The first signs of what would turn out to be the worst recession in generations appeared in late 2007 and early 2008. News organizations were far from immune — and some were particularly bad off. Conglomerates that owned some of the largest news outlets nationwide had fallen under the same spell as the entire country in the 2000s. Those companies didn’t judge the economy at the time for the junk-food high that it was, and proceeded to over-leverage themselves with acquisitions. After the economy nearly fell off a cliff in September 2008, media companies’ debt combined with the recession and growing digital competition led to thousands of layoffs in U.S. newsrooms. /CONTINUES Read More