Media's need for speed

Illustration by Jamilia
Illustration by Jamilia

Keeping up with the numerous developments in both the local and global scene is one of the key necessities of journalism, as media needs to be current with quick coverage of events, but without sacrificing details or credibility

Staying abreast with all the rapid developments in our personal and social lives has become one of our core motivations in the current age. We want all the latest things when it comes to gadgets, experiences, trends, fads, clothes, and of course, information.

Among these, information is both the easiest and the hardest to keep track of. It is the easiest to follow because information is one of the most readily available products of our age. We are living in the information age, after all. However, its abundance and sheer variety also make it hard to keep track of, especially if we want to keep informed about the most current developments in different fields.

Out of all fields, media is undoubtedly the one that needs to be the most current when it comes to obtaining information on various developments. It needs to be the first to arrive and the last to leave, offering a current, thorough knowledge of any situation in its scope.

This need for speed went through several stages in its history. With the arrival of privately-owned mainstream media companies, free market and competition, the concept of breaking news emerged.

People flocked to the media organizations that brought them the most current information ahead of the competition. When print was the only medium, the scales of speed and depth of information in news was tempered by the daily schedule of its publication. With television, however, speed became all the more important, as viewers could simply change the channel to a more current news show, an easier alternative to subscribing to a different newspaper.

When the news organizations started to adopt internet as a viable platform, speed became even more important as readers were able to find out all the latest developments in a matter of minutes, which with the rise of the social media, went down to seconds.

It was at this point that mainstream media realized competing solely on speed was a futile endeavor as it could never outpace any random social media user broadcasting from a cellphone as a situation developed. Thus, established media outlets started exploring other things they could offer, such as credibility and a thorough understanding of a situation in order to give their readers a wider picture.

It is a delicate balancing act though. For instance, holding news articles is nothing in journalism and can be done for several reasons. Sometimes editors withhold news articles temporarily to uncover more information and craft a more in-depth report. It can also be done in order to better vet sources and the information they provide. Waiting for a situation to develop and mature can be another possible reason.

In the case of print media, lack of space can be one of the most common reasons. Unlike web editors, who have essentially limitless space, printed newspaper editors need to choose which developments to cover while discarding countless more.

This, however, can create some unfortunate situations at times. Let us take a look at a recent situation faced by the Turkish language daily, Sabah, as it pertains to holding news articles.

On Nov. 17, 2017, Sabah ran an original story by Erhan Öztürk on the back page that managed to present an outlook different from the usual perspectives of our daily agendas. The news article also managed to attract quite a bit of attention in social media.

It was also original content, another exemplary criterion, as each day news articles from agencies cover more and more of every newspapers' pages, regardless of its category, such as politics, economy and so forth.

The article "News from Kadife," told the story of two donkeys that were found in Mardin with broken legs. The animals were brought to Istanbul University's Veterinary Faculty for treatment. One of the donkeys, a jenny, Kadife received a prosthesis leg following an operation and was found to be four months pregnant.

But the situation took a turn for the worse and news arrived later in the day that Kadife had died a day before the news was printed. Long story short, she was already dead when the article was published. This example shows the negative consequences of shelving a news article.

After looking into the matter, I found out that the reporter had added the article to our systems days ago, even updating it recently with new developments. Yet the original and intriguing article that should be welcome in any newspaper only managed to find a place days after it was written.

In the past, we saw instances where statements in news articles belonging to people passed away days before the publishing date of the said article.

An article can lose its news value if it is shelved for a long time, thus the practice should be avoided. But in case that is not possible, all relevant information should be double-checked to make sure it are still correct and updated, before printing it at a later date.

Another problem we encounter sometimes is repetition. This is more relevant in the case of web versions of a newspaper. With the increased demand for new entries on websites along with the demand for hits, old favorites often show themselves a couple of times every year with little change.

These articles range from pseudo medical developments that rely on either false hope paddling or fear mongering to the thousandth iteration of how to save battery life on smartphones. The previous case violates several ethical principles and we covered them on Reader's Corner before. The latter is also problematic as it reuses articles with minimal changes to gather some quick hits.

There are also the cases where journalists fail to grasp that their articles are not as current as they think. A recent example was the article "80-million-year-old living fossil found," covered by many Turkish outlets. Do not let the oxymoron in the title mislead you though; scientists nicknamed the frilled shark as the living fossil because it managed to stay the same for millions of years.

Yet this nickname is not something new opposed to what the title suggests. Even if one disregards the preliminary studies from the 19th century, the discovery of the "living fossil" dates back to at least 1938. Since then, on rare occasions, fishermen have found frilled sharks in their nets in various parts of the world.

Apparently, sharks are not the only ones getting caught in the nets; some journalists are also getting tangled up for not doing basic research on the subject before dubbing the event "a great discovery." Announcing a discovery of a species 79 years too late is a problem in a profession that needs to be as current as possible, no matter how you slice it.

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