Faster pace

The survey results show that one of the responses to increased competition is to strive to report the news before the competitors. This competition was confirmed in the interviews for this paper. When asked about his Web site's strength in comparison to competitors, one manager said, "I do a lot of comparisons when there is breaking news, and our site consistently posts local breaking news first." 1

The manager's site is affiliated with a local television station, and the broadcast media have indeed held an advantage when it comes to reporting the news first. A television station or radio station can have several news updates per day and interrupt its regular programming to give the latest news; a newspaper is limited to one edition per day. Today's cable television networks and some radio stations broadcast news 24 hours a day. However, television journalists are not necessarily the most eager to have the story before the competition. In the Pew/CCJ study, print journalists were more likely than their broadcast and Internet counterparts to claim "getting the story first" as a core principle of journalism. 2 The limitations of the medium simply make it difficult for newspapers to report news before their counterparts unless they have some degree of secrecy surrounding their sources.

The Internet can help print journalists realize their goal of having the news before their broadcast competitors by updating their affiliated Web sites. Several papers now offer regular news updates online: the Providence Journal has noon and 4:30 p.m. "Digital Bulletins," the Washington Post has a large-scale update in "PM Extra" at 1 p.m., Raleigh's News and Observer offers a 3 p.m. update, and the Orlando Sentinel has a "Midday Update" at noon that is offered on the Web site and via e-mail. 3 All of these sites also have the ability to update whenever an important story breaks, and some sites simply post the latest news throughout the day.

Two of the interview participants with newspaper experience said the constant news cycle has changed their jobs. A former reporter who now works on her newspaper's Web site said her mission "has changed now that I work online. Deadlines are 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and there is more emphasis on speed than in my previous roles." 4 A reporter said, "As far as pressures go, technology has definitely racheted up deadline pressures. There's the ubiquitous 24-hour news cycle featuring all-news cable channels, Internet news sites and round-the-clock radio news stations." He added that his newspaper Web site now has an afternoon update to which print reporters contribute regularly. 5

However, newspaper journalists must adjust to meet these new deadlines. A newspaper Web site executive, speaking in a magazine forum, lamented the inability of his medium to keep pace. Chris Jennewein, vice president of Knight Ridder New Media, said:

"The Web seems to be raising the importance of breaking news. Ever since television, newspapers have focused on analysis and detailed reports 'of record.' But with the Web, newspapers can deliver detailed reports very quickly, often beating television. Unfortunately, most newspapers have forgotten how to do breaking news well." 6

Newspapers have taken different approaches to meeting this challenge. As the reporter stated above, some newspapers have asked their print staff to contribute to the Web site. Reporters sometimes express reluctance to do this; Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, describing the practice at his own newspaper and at the New York Times, wrote:

"These baby steps toward continuous coverage have been greeted with some skepticism in the Post and Times newsrooms, where most reporters are not compensated for the extra work. While no staffer is forced to contribute, some have expressed concern that writing dual stories could cut into their reporting time." 7

This reluctance can be overcome, however, if reporters are asked to write only a short piece rather than a "dual story." At the Arizona Republic, reporters "warmed to it now that they realize we only need five to 10 graphs, not a whole story, and they see how quickly their work hits the Web," said John Leach, the editor in charge of the project. 8

Other newspapers, most notably the Chicago Tribune, rely instead on a staff of Web-only reporters. Print reporters are not obligated to cooperate with the Web site's staff, and the Tribune and sometimes have separate reporters at the same event. 9 The site's reporters focus on events that are better-suited for their medium. For example, a fire that causes significant traffic delays may be useful to a reader checking the site before leaving work for the day, but the paper may not consider it worthy of coverage in the next morning's edition. 10 "We're combining the immediacy of the Internet with the accuracy and authority that the paper is known for," Ken Mingis, who writes breaking news for the Providence Journal's Web site, told Online Journalism Review. 11

No matter which approach is taken, reporters face growing time pressure that adds to the challenge of checking information with multiple reliable sources without giving competitors the time to get the story first. "[T]he continuous news cycle makes verification more difficult," wrote media critics Rosenstiel and Kovach. 12 However, reporters who hesitate can find the news reported first by a competitor. Newsweek suffered such a fate when its news staff waited one week to report the initial details of the story that gripped the United States for a year — the story that President Clinton may have given misleading testimony concerning an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. While Newsweek labored to verify its information, the story was leaked to the Drudge Report, a Web site, and it quickly moved to other news organizations. 13

The television journalists interviewed for this paper agreed that accuracy should not be compromised in the rush to have a story first. Asked if his news staff had less time to check facts under today's deadline pressures, a news director simply said, "You make time." 14 A television reporter said those who rush to beat the competition end up cheating viewers:

"[B]eing first and getting it wrong is ridiculous. There was a station here in [city name removed] that believed if it got it on first but had some of the facts wrong, viewers would forgive it — it could always come back and apologize. Well, how many apologies must they be subjected to? Why should they be subjected to any that could be avoided?" 15