The Death of the Deadline


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?

Links:

Journalism Needs to Punch Back

Balance Continues to Undermine Journalism

6 Responses to “The Death of the Deadline”

  1. Another phenomenon has come about with the emergence of 24-hour web publishing that’s closely linked to what you point out here: the decline of the perceived importance of copy editing. In a job a few years ago at a publication where I was the chief copy editor, a senior staff member told me the organization considered copy editing less important than it had in the past. Speed to posting was far more important than checking to make sure house and AP style had been adhered to, the reasoning went (as if that’s all copy editors do). You can see a similar de-emphasis of copyediting at major publications, where many guild-staffed copy desks have been replaced by less-experienced free-lancers (if they’ve been replaced at all).

    The result: a less-polished, less readable and frequently less compelling product. Sure, content makes it to the website more quickly, but so do the kind of spelling, grammatical and factual errors that call an organizations credibility into question. Of course, accountability to anything but the bottom line also seems less important these days, so perhaps I’m just revealing myself to be a dinosaur by pointing this out.

  2. Hi VG:
    In fact, trust in the media is at an all time low. So perhaps the frequent mistakes, spelling errors and less readable stories are a big factor in that decline.

  3. It’s also more difficult than ever for reporters to find balance between their jobs and home lives. The unpredictable nature of news always has made this a problem, but now it’s not possible to meet a deadline and go home. Reporters are always fully on, not just for information gathering purposes, but for writing and distributing too. While this is exciting, it also adds and extra layer (or a dozen) to the job. I think this probably makes burnout an even bigger concern than before.

  4. Another vulnerability that PR professionals are exploiting is the everlasting need for content. Many media outlets are accepting and even soliciting content in ways they hadn’t before.

  5. Hi profkrg:
    I think we can say the same about most professions these days. Technology is creeping into personal life like never before. Mobile phones and email are constantly making Saturdays a work day and taking a week’s vacation without checking in is near impossible for many professionals.

    Hi Alison:
    You are so right. Brand content is everywhere – surveys, infographics, videos. Done well it can be a great enhancement for news coverage. But it needs to pass through editor filters first and the content needs to be labeled as coming from a brand or an agency so that readers are aware of the source.

  6. Reblogged this on windows and commented:
    The Death of the Deadline

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