Thursday, January 24, 2008

Right, or Right Now ?

The Internet brings us information instantly. No longer do we have to wait till 6:00 pm, or even the whole next morning, to learn what happened today. And three networks and two daily newspapers no longer constitute our entire news universe. And each of these, in many ways, is unfortunate. More viewpoints are better than fewer, but journalistic standards are no longer uniformly high. And in the race to be first, the race to be best is less important. A writer for the Columbia Journalism review characterizes the thinking this way: "talking can be just as important as saying something." Fact checkers stand aside; anything you uncover goes in the updated version. The LA Times blog pines for the days when journalists had "hours—not minutes or seconds—to craft a story from the blast wave of facts and factoids that comes in the wake of a bombshell.” How crass has the race to be first become ? The Associated Press has written an obituary for 26-year old Britney Spears. The editor clients of AP were embarrassed they didn't have one at the ready when 39 yo Anna Nicole Smith succumbed, and they don't want to be that woefully unprepared again. Slate movie critic Dana Stevens captures the tension in writing celebrity obituaries: “The deadline is, by definition, past, and you know you've already been scooped countless times.” Celebrities dying young is not a new: see James Dean, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, John Belushi, Chris Farley, et al. What's new is the need to start talking before the body goes cold. And AP's clients will be the first to start talking by prudently planning ahead. Or so they think. As Jon Thurber, the obit editor of the LA Times, warns, "Who in the '60s . . .would have thought Keith Richards would have outlasted John Denver?"

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