Newspaper reporters can now keep up with their broadcast peers

I read an interesting opinion piece entitled “Writing Online: You Have to Feed the Machine — And the Machine Likes Junk Food” that I want to comment about.

The writer, John Reinan, wrote that, among other things, reporters at my hometown daily newspaper (The Oregonian) now have to post “multiple news items a day, piecing together a story bit by bit rather than waiting until they’ve collected all the information.”

Reinan also states: “When you’re reporting on the geek world, you have to move as quickly as the geeks do. But digital competition is forcing traditional news outlets to move in the same direction.”

I disagree with this part of Mr. Reinan’s piece. I think he’s looking at it all wrong. Being able to post information online before a newspaper reporter has all of his/her facts assembled is leveling the playing field that, up to now, has been dominated by radio and television journalists who don’t wait but who get to report facts as soon as they are obtained.

Think of some of the biggest news stories of the past century: the assassinations of Jack and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the moon landing, the death of Princess Diana, the O.J. Simpson trial, the L.A. riots, the 911 attacks, and the tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia, to name but a few.

All of those news events have two things in common:
1) When they first occurred, not all the facts were known.
2) Radio and television reporters were the first to break the news because they didn’t have to wait until all the information was available to start reporting the story. Because of that, they left their newspaper counterparts in the dust.

Now, due to the nature and immediacy of the internet, newspaper reporters can finally keep pace — and perhaps even overcome — broadcast reporters in being the first to report breaking news.

I’m certainly not advocating that, in a rush to be the first with the news, a journalist should report a rumor or unsubstantiated facts. You only have to look as far as the recent Donald Sterling racism controversy to see how journalists embarrass themselves and their profession by doing so (click here to see what I’m talking about).

I’m also not calling for newspapers to abandon original reporting or careful editing. But if a newspaper reporter has some of the facts of a story nailed down, why wait until the morning edition to share them with their readers? I think it’s great that they now have the ability and the means to report a story as it happens.

Radio and television stations have been doing that for years. Now it’s time that newspaper reporters catch up.

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