The 24 hour news cycle is nothing new. It started in 1980 with the launch of CNN, the very first 24 hour news channel. Prior to cable news we relied on the newspaper, radio, or the evening news broadcast to find out what was happening in the world. And if a big story broke during the day or after the news broadcast chances were we would be informed by having our favorite TV show interrupted with a special report from the affiliate’s newsroom.
Over the last few years, however, the rate at which we receive the news has been accelerating and, believe it or not, promises to become even more immediate. Some news organizations are applying extreme and sometimes controversial business practices to keep up with this increasing pace and to survive in the highly competitive online news space.
With more pressure to deliver content to their followers, organizations like Politico and Gawker are helping to ratchet up the intensity to an even higher level when it comes to reporting the news. Pre-dawn start times at agencies along with bonuses tied to the number of pageviews a reporter’s story garners are adding to the sense of urgency in which a story is posted online. Tracking how many people view articles online is becoming a higher priority not only at new media, but old media as well – creating an environment to see who can post the most exclusive stories the fastest.
As a result, when a major national story is in the midst of breaking news, the rules of engagement sometimes become a bit blurred, with more outlets favoring “cut and paste reporting” over actual journalism. Last month Rolling Stone magazine was about to post the General McChrystal story in which he and his aids were critical of the White House – first sending an advanced copy of the story to the Associated Press (customary for magazines trying to promote a story) with some restrictions. But before Rolling Stone had a chance to publish the story on their website, on their scheduled date, two major websites (Politico and Times.com) decided to post a PDF of the entire story to their respective sites.
Although it was seen by some as a breach of copyright and professional best practices, both companies explained that they posted the story as it was unfolding. Since Rolling Stone didn’t immediately post the article itself they decided to move forward on their own. Eric Bates, executive editor of Rolling Stone, didn’t see it that way. Voicing his concern not only from his magazine’s perspective but from an industry perspective, he called it a “transitional moment,” adding, “What these two media organizations did was off the charts. They took something that was in pre-published form, sent to other media organizations with specific restrictions, and just put it up.”
However, the exhausting pace of online news isn’t just taking its toll on the media organizations themselves. It is also coming at a price to the individuals supplying the content. The longer hours and added pressure to constantly come up with exclusive stories has contributed to an increased turnover of staff at online news organizations with more journalists facing burnout at a younger age. A dozen reporters recently left Politico in the first half of this year and it’s very common for an editor to leave Gawker after just one year.
While some may debate the future of the media, one thing is certain: The online media race is on. I’m just not sure if slow and steady wins this one.
Do you think that the media and their audiences, are biting off more news than they can chew? As a public relations professional, what do you think about news organizations bending the rules of engagement to keep up with today’s frenetic pace of news and how does this impact the way you conduct media relations? If you’re a journalist or blogger, how are you handling the added pressure of constantly having to deliver? Please share your thoughts with me and the readers of BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas.