Is need for speed damaging journalism?

Barry Tucker                    29 March, 2014

In an article for online magazine The Hoopla, Channel Ten’s Antoinette Lattouf writes about the volume of news, its quality and the ease of correcting errors — on the interwebs.

Ms Lattouf raises the point of “not wrong for long” (speedy corrections, often aided by eagle eyed and well informed social media users) and finally asks “Is the need for speed damaging journalism?”

The speed she refers to is due to digital technology. During the past two decades reporters have been able to broadcast from the scene to your TV, computer screen, smart ‘phone or tablet, live, in real time, while the action is happening. Reporting via the newsroom and its editors to the online edition of a newspaper takes a bit longer, but “the need for speed” is met through Tweets or Facebook postings, from the Parliamentary Press Gallery or wherever the action is.

The need for speed itself is not new. Reporters once needed excellent shorthand skills to record newsworthy quotes quickly, accurately and in full. That has been replaced by miniature sound recorders and/or mobile ‘phones; the need to find and transcribe or relay the juicy bits slows down the process. But the need for speed, to beat others to the news, was always there for reporters. Leonardo’s telescope had a huge impact on commerce in Venice because it gave advance notice of approaching ships and their cargoes, indicated by the flags they were flying.

The need for speed is there today because the new technologies make it possible to be beaten by the other mob if you are a bit slow off the mark. The issue that Ms Latouff raises really revolves around the effect that this speedy delivery of huge volumes of news is having on consumers. She does not talk about the effects that the new technologies may be having on reporters, journalists and commentators, although it may be mentioned in the Channel Ten studio discussion video below her story.

I don’t believe “the need for speed” is a factor in errors appearing in news stories. The need for accuracy has always been hammered into reporters and the sub-editors who process the stories. If anything has changed it is the sub-editors. There are not many sub-editors to be found in today’s newsrooms, victims of cost-cutting as the profitability of newspapers decreases. This means the reporters have to be extra careful about their facts — but that has always been the case.

Errors are more likely to be found in social media, especially on Twitter — one of the fastest mediums available today. Most of its users are not trained reporters or sub-editors. I am both, and I still manage to produce the occasional typo, misused apostrophe, wrong spelling or even the wrong fact (usually because I misheard something on TV or radio in my kitchen cum newsroom — the habit of journalism is a hard one to break). I make unforced errors because of the mad rush atmosphere that Twitter generates. It’s a problem that can be corrected merely by slowing down and double-checking before tweeting — overcoming the need for speed.