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Michael Scherer had an epiphany yesterday searching for a transcript of Dick Cheney’s CNN interview and stumbling on nine different stories in Politico about it.

What struck me about all this was not just that Politico had created a hassle for me, the reader. It was that they were doing news online smarter than the rest of the old-school organs of print journalism–from the New York Times to TIME magazine–and that Politico’s insights about how the web works could have ill effects for the future of my profession, political journalism.

Here’s why: The Internet has changed the incentives for news producers. Once upon a time, the incentive of a print reporter at a major news organization was to create a comprehensive, incisive account of an event like Cheney’s provocative interview on CNN. (Open the New York Times or the Washington Post tomorrow, and you will still be able to read  versions of this story.) That account would then be packaged into a container (a newspaper, a magazine, a 30-minute network news broadcast) and sold to the consumer. In the Internet-age, by contrast, what matters is not the container, but the news nugget, the blurb, the linkable atom of information. That nugget is not packaged (since the newspapers, magazine, broadcast television structure do not really apply online), but rather sent out into the ether, seeking out links, search engine ranking and as many hits as possible. A click is a click, after all, whether it’s to a paragraph-length blog post or a 2,000 word magazine piece. News, in other words, is increasingly no longer consumed in the context of a full article, or even a full accounting of an event, but rather as Twitter-sized feeds, of the sort provided by the Huffington Post, The Page, and The Drudge Report. Each quote gets its own headline. Context and analysis are minimized for space. The reader, choosing her own adventure as she clicks, creates her own narrative of the world, one that is largely dependent on the aggregators she employs.

Much more at the link, which ironically undercuts his larger point — as he himself acknowledges:

But I do wonder where it all leads. I wonder how long it takes before people view a 600-word web story as too long? What about a web story that is longer than 140 characters? What about this very blog post, which is now more than 1,000 words, two or three times the length of a proper blog post? I am sure most of you have stopped reading.

Look, I’m in sympathy with the desire for context and a larger understanding of the issues.  At the same time, however, we want what we want.  Faced with a choice of sitting through sixty minutes of drivel, reading a 5000 word transcript, or reading as many short articles discussing nine aspects of the interview as I’m interested in, I’ll take the latter every time.  Package them smartly and I’ll be interested in more of the articles.

One irony of the way the Internet is evolving is the move from text to audiovisual, thus undercutting its natural advantage.  Occasionally, it’s great to have a video — especially a short one — to illustrate something.  This is especially true with things like the recent flap over the Rush Limbaugh “I want Obama to fail” speech or the Jon Stewart vs. Larry Cramer confrontation.  For the most part, though, I’ve stopped watching long form television shows — including the Sunday talk shows — in favor of blog- and Politico-style discussions of said shows.   The vast majority of what happens on a 60 minute segment of these shows is either old news or simply uninteresting to me.  I’d far prefer to wait a couple of hours and just get the few minutes worth that I would have cared about and examine that in depth.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. steve s says:

    I don’t watch news shows anymore. I read a few blogs everyday, but get most of my info from The Economist, blogs run by experts in particular subjects, and long-form pieces in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, etc. One or two shows. Charlie Rose, Fareed Zakaria. But 99% of the news shows are crap. They’re either pointless daily updates “The stock market went up 17 points today on news that OPEC was an acronym…” or dumb he-said/she-said shows where they pit a reasonable person against a dumb robot saying, “Tax cuts…Obama’s a muslim…tax cuts…rules are socialism…tax cuts…” Worthless.

  2. Brett says:

    I still do try to do a full read of the best articles and op-eds in the New York Times, plus the Washington Post and BBC News Online, but largely I’m in the same boat as steve s. I just can’t be arsed to watch political shows anymore, although that may be a bias on my part; I prefer reading good articles and blog posts to watching 15 minutes of political tv commentary.

  3. nevrdll says:

    politico’s reporting is too cluttered for my taste, and often just factually wrong, which may just be a function of the speed they keep posting at. their business model is based on rapid-fire content production, not necessarily depth and thoughtfulness. and that is basically the why i keep avoiding politico in my news consumption – since their reporting keep trickling in nearly undigested and unreflected (and with a high degree of speculation in place) i don’t gather anything new from them. I’d rather have my news researched and verified, instead of force fed to me.

  4. tom p says:

    Look, I’m in sympathy with the desire for context and a larger understanding of the issues.

    Here is the problem with todays news: Did the CNN interviewer challange Cheney on his assertion that Obama was making things more dangerous? Or did he just accept Cheney’s assertion?

    Point is this: I can quite honestly say that the US will be subject to another terrorist attack in the next 8 years. So what? I don’t have to be James Joyner (or Dave Schuler) to say that. All I have to be is cognizant of recent history. If McCain had won the election, I could say the same and be just as accurate.

    Look, I’m in sympathy with the desire for context and a larger understanding of the issues.

    Unforunately, this is what is being lost. We are feeding into our own preconcieved narratives. And we are much the poorer for it.