Breaking News: Who Cares?
Responding to a defense of shoddy journalism on account of the need to be “15 minutes” ahead of competitors, Matt Yglesias retorts:
But there are really two ways to break news. A Type 1 scoop is a story that if you don’t break, just won’t be broken. A Type 2 scoop is a pure race for priority. You get Type 2 scoops by becoming the favored destination for deliberate leaks, or by ferreting out information that will be officially announced soon enough (Joe Biden will be Obama’s VP pick!), or by chasing down an obvious-but-arduous-to-follow lead. These Type 2 scoops are structurally similar to “breaking news” but they don’t have any real value. Far too often in Washington we have a dozen reporters following something, and then at the margin three more tag along. Meanwhile, almost nobody is doing enterprise work around investigating non-obvious issues. You have way more people covering the White House’s response to the latest attack from Liz Cheney than covering the entire Department of Agriculture and nobody knows what scandals or stories or whatever we’re missing. And it’s largely because we place undue value on the idea of beating the other guy by 15 minutes.
I agree completely. It’s amazing how much of reporting is everyone chasing the same story — or, worse, speculating about something that will require no speculation in the immediate future — rather than the hard pick-and-shovel work that is supposedly what journalism is all about.
And it’s not just political coverage, either. Virtually the entirely of the sports pages and sports talk media is devoted to guessing which team will pick which player in tonight’s NFL Draft. And, while that’s got some real entertainment value, it’s a ridiculous waste of time for both reporters and their audience. After all: The draft will actually take place and actual players will be picked, thereby rendering the speculation moot.
Presumably, though, the reason that this is the trend is because that’s where the incentives lead. Bickering between the White House and its opponents is entertaining and predictable. Conversely, while there may indeed be some very interesting things going on at the Department of Agriculture, there may not be. And it’ll take hundreds if not thousands of manhours to find out.