One of the enormous changes in journalism during the “internet age” has been the loss of the deadline.
The impact of this demise has been significant, but rarely discussed. Yet it may be one of the biggest in changes in the way journalists research, write and publish news stories.
When I started as a journalist – back when Wham! walked the Earth – I worked for a mid-size daily newspaper where the deadline for the regional editions was 11:30 p.m. and the city edition half-past midnight. Miss those deadlines and your article would need to wait 24-hours before hitting the newsstands.
Journalists worked these 24-hour cycles into an art form. The first half of a reporter’s shift would be spent collecting information – interviews, archive and library research, site visits and phone work confirming the information and perspectives. The second half would be collating and writing the article.
Then the editors would take over – paring down, correcting grammar and spelling, double-checking the facts and challenging the reporters premises, main-points and facts. Sometimes this could lead to shouting matches between editors and reporters, but this was arguably the most important part of the process.
I can remember arguing with editors about word choice when it came to specific adjectives. On important or significant stories, I could have my article challenged by as many as five editors – all the way up to the managing editor. The goal was always to improve the stories – but most of all it was to make sure the article came as close to the truth as possible.
Those days are over. There are no deadlines on the internet. Every story can be updated, edited and altered in real-time. Deadlines don’t occur every 24-hours. They occur every second.
As a result, filters are breaking down. Editors spend less time on editing. Less time challenging assumptions. Less time challenging specific adjectives.
Reporters work shorter cycles. The pressure to publish is immense. Journalists are no longer just responsible for writing articles, but providing multimedia content: videos, tweets, status updates and even aiding in application development.
Articles now have less polish on them. Drafts are being published and edited in real-time. Internet stories lack permanence. They are ephemeral.
This is a vulnerability that has successfully been exploited by spin doctors, publicists and public relations experts – even readers. It is easy for them all to get changes into an article. This can be good – if there was a mistake. But not so good when changes are made because they have simply been challenged by the audience rather than the editors.
Deadlines were a powerful mechanism for keeping journalism – and its audiences – honest.
Frightening to think what will happen when print completely goes away and we’re left with nothing but ‘net.
What do you think?