Guest post: Barrage of information hinders quality

Students in J457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the seventh of these posts. Nathaniel Haines is a senior journalism major from St. Louis, Mo. He is in the news editing sequence and is a member of The Daily Tar Heel editorial board.

Quality, thoughtful journalism is being swallowed whole by the demand for quantity and constant updates.

It started with the 24-hour cable news networks. Now, we’ve descended to new depths with micro-blogging. We journalists are now reveling in out-of-context 140-character snippets of information that we can push to audiences from our phones.

On Jan. 25, 2010, Ken Auletta wrote an article for The New Yorker called “Non-Stop News.” The article examined how 24-hour news cycle — scratch that; the hour-long news cycle — is affecting the White House press corps.

Auletta paints a bleak picture of harassed reporters who are responsible for pushing out content 5 minutes ago. Auletta follows an NBC White House correspondent, Chuck Todd. In the course of one day, Todd writes three to five blog posts and eight to 10 Tweets; he also appears on multiple TV shows.

But there’s a question that looms behind Auletta’s description of the non-stop news cycle: Where are the editors?

It’s a startling issue of the non-stop news cycle. In order to cut the time between when a reporter writes a story and when a reader reads it, editors have been removed — or at least, they come in at a later points. Their job as gatekeeper between the reporter and the reader is being redefined.

But should it?

Should reporters be pushing news to their readers constantly? Is BlackBerry reporting actual reporting? Is there anyone in the process who digests the information and asks himself, “Should we publish this?”

Presumably, reporters are supposed to police their own news and information. But objective questions can’t be answered by someone immersed in a situation. A reporter doesn’t have perspective on the information he works hard to push out everyday.

At one point in his piece, Auletta quotes Anita Dunn: “When journalists call you to discuss a story, it’s not because they’re interested in having a discussion. They’re interested in a response. And the need to file five times a day encourages this.”

That’s a problem. It might seem like the rush is just part of entering an era in which information is instant. But the rush should really be seen as a new role for editors. Perhaps, instead of being gatekeepers for readers, editors should start acting as gatekeepers for reporters. It might be time for editors to tell the public that good news takes time and effort and that minute-to-minute updates are more like gossip than journalism.