Can we talk about the nonsense of caring about which news outlet first reports a big piece of news? I’m not talking about a genuine scoop—a report that wouldn’t have otherwise come to light—but about news that we’re all eventually going to find out anyway. Who Mitt Romney selects to be his running-mate, for instance, or whether the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate.
I know I’m often out-of-the-loop when it comes to journalism norms and conventions, but this one honestly confounds me. Has any publication ever received a Pulitzer for being the first to report a major announcement? Is there some secret reward at stake—free cookies for a year? A trip to Hawaii? Do colleagues buy you a drink to congratulate you on beating the other networks by ten seconds?
Because if this is just about bragging rights, it needs to stop. Now. And not just because it can lead to some outlets rushing to report incorrect information, as CNN and FOX did with the recent Supreme Court decision on health care reform. But because the race to be first is no longer just a feature of news coverage but often the main factor driving it.
Amy Sullivan, The New Republic. Who Reported It First? Who Cares?
With the Supreme Court about to announce their decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act our (mostly cable) media were chomping at the bit to be first out of the gate with some BREAKING NEWS.
CNN, as we know, fell flat on its face. It’s been struck down, they reported incorrectly. Their amplification machine went into overdrive with banner headlines on CNN.com and posts on social media until Wolf Blitzer — in purely Wolf Blitzer moment — helpfully illuminated us all.
“It’s getting a little more complicated,” he said.
As Sullivan points out: “His remark, of course, referred to the network’s own coverage. The court’s decision couldn’t have gotten more complicated because it was final, set down on paper.”
Sullivan’s article is well worth the read. Yes, there’s some importance to speed, she writes, but the media focuses too much on getting it first on too many stories where getting it first really isn’t important. Like, say, a Supreme Court announcement that everyone will hear about when it’s actually announced.
If the topic interests you, check out her follow-up. And if your journo-geekery runs real deep, head over to SCOTUSblog where Tom Goldstein walks 7,000 plus words through a minute by minute account of how CNN and Fox got their reporting wrong, and who the whole media scrum works in cases such as this.