The Death of “Deep” Reporting

Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead on the future of reporting:

The readers, of course, may not care. Swanson, the former managing editor at CBS, says, emphatically, “no consumers give a [poop] who breaks stories. Everyone has them within minutes. We thought there was value, but there’s none. This isn’t opinion. This is empirical.”

This sounds like an odd thing to say. Reporters who are embedded in a sport, and connected with front offices and players and agents don’t matter?

“The public is too unsophisticated to understand the difference between the dateline on a story or whether it is aggregated,” Elling said.

The sum of this piece is about how major media sites are moving towards “aggregation” instead of actually reporting. Essentially the prevailing theory is that it has become more important to be first than to be right or detailed. But even that is overrated to a certain extent. Most consumers don’t care who breaks the story first, just that they know about it. Things like Twitter make it really easy to find out when something happens, and often times the people who find news this way don’t have the faintest idea of who was the first person to report it.

This is one of the gaps between “journalism” in 2016 and journalism from a historical standpoint. Things are aggregated so many places these days, and more importantly information travels, and is distributed so quickly, that no matter who reports something, everyone (who cares) will see it within minutes. And that makes it even more obvious why the person that wrote the story is irrelevant to most people. Track record doesn’t even matter anymore. Specific journalists or news outlets can’t distinguish themselves because things get retweeted so many times no one cares who the first person was. Therefore it’s not like the average person says “I need to follow person [x] at ESPN because they always have the news first” because “first” these days means minutes or seconds, not hours or days.

There is even more to this story though. It’s not just about who is first, it’s about the content itself. The days of writing 20,000 word investigative pieces is a niche business now. This is a tl;dr world. even puts a couple of summarizing bullet points on most of their articles now, and a lot of them are like 1,000 words. When people consume news, they want the bare minimum. They want a few key bullet points, and a headline that tells them what they need to know. There are still people out there who want long form writing, but only in the instances where they are reading for pleasure, rather than information.

Is this a bad thing? It might be. Misinformation get’s passed around much faster and to a wider audience than it once did. People jump to conclusions based on a headline and don’t get a lot of the details. But part of that is because the information isn’t presented in a way that most people want to consume it. There were undoubtedly people 65 years ago who wrote for newspapers and said that presenting news on television would never work. Their epic stories couldn’t be conveyed without the vast space of newspapers or magazines. And yet it did.

Someone is going to figure out how to do deep reporting in this social media generation. Just like news on TV and the web, someone will figure it out eventually, and the old guard will say it can’t work. There will be a rough transition period (one which we might be in right now), but ultimately things will work out. But surely the conveyance of news and reporting is going to look different, and there is no stopping it.