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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.