Daily Archives: 15 December 2006

How not to serve yesterday’s news tomorrow

Mark Potts addresses a familiar demon on the Recovering Journalist


“I hear more and more people grumbling that some newspaper stories seem so…out of date. As more of us read the news online in real time, it seems odd to find the same stories in the printed paper the next day, as if the coverage was a day late. I find myself reading printed papers and thinking, “sheesh, I knew about that two days ago.” Even the latest editions run several hours behind the news when they finally land on readers’ doorsteps, and if a story happens overnight but doesn’t appear until the following day’s paper, it can be more than 24 hours old before it appears in print. No wonder papers seem out of date.

“This wasn’t an issue before the Web, before cable news, when newspapers were the primary source of news and information; news didn’t really happen until you read it in print. No more. We know what’s going on in the world shortly after it happens, with sound, video and multiple versions. By comparison, newspaper coverage of the same story often seems to be stale.

“There’s no easy solution to this, but newspaper editors and reporters need to be aware of it and shape their coverage accordingly: fewer “for the record” stories and more context, explanation and analysis. Move the story forward from what everybody already knows. Sports sections have been doing this for years; because of TV, most readers know the score of the previous night’s games, so sports stories have become more analytical. This practice needs to spread into the rest of the newspaper. If the paper isn’t absolutely the first place readers are seeing a story, make sure that what they’re seeing looks fresh and new. Otherwise, you’re yesterday’s news.”


PR kiya to darna kya?

Nine out of ten journalists land in journalism by accident, most often because they weren’t fit or good enough for anything else—a sad reality that gets exposed when they leave after a few years for PR or corporate communications. Or, worse, when do the latter using the former.

Not Howell Raines.

The former executive editor of the New York Times unabhashedly claims that journalism was his second love, second to writing. And in his just released memoirs The One That Got Away (Scribner), Raines proves why with breathtaking prose.

The One That Got Away is mostly about Raines’ real love, fly-fishing, an obsession ingrained in him by his black nanny reading Hemingway‘s The Old Man and the Sea when he was a young boy. (Raines’ essay on the nanny, Grady Hitchinson, fetched him a Pulitzer.)

“The governing emotion of fishing is not one of attainment but one of anxiety about incipient loss. Every moment that a fish is on the line, we dread the sensation of being disconnected against our will, of being evaded, escaped from, of grabbing and missing. Every fish that slips the hook instructs us in the surgical indifference of fate. For, like fate, a fish only seems to be acting against us. It is, in fact, ignorant of us, profoundly indifferent, incapable of being moved by our desires, by our joy or sorrow.

“We regard the moment when the fish rises to a fly as a triumph of piscatorial artistry, and when the line breaks or the hook pulls out, we feel cheated, outfoxed, chagrined. We take it personally. But to the fish, such an encounter is simply an interruption, unremarkable and unremembered, in the instinctual, self-absorbed journey of fulfilling its fishhood. What we experience as an exercise of will and hope, the fish encounters as an accident, no more or less remarkable than meeting a shrimp.”

But Raines, whose last year NYT was clouded by the Jayson Blair controversy, also weighs in with thoughts on his second love, journalism:

“A newspaper is a daily miracle of birth through the agency of scores of midwives and great barns of tireless robots and thundering machines. As for the people, every newsroom is a ship of fools. Some are mad, some are funny, some brilliant, some priapic, a few tragic, and, of course, a good many drunk or stoned.

“The best of them are haunted by the knowledge that newspapers don’t create anything that lasts. In the next rank down, you find those capable of true enjoyment, riding the daily adrenaline rush and not caring a whit that the next day’s work will vanish into the maw of time before they have their next scrambled egg.”