By Jackelyn Ho
They call it news for a reason. All across America, people are fighting to be the first to know the latest trending topics – before it even happens.
Whether it’s the need for higher ratings, more website hits, or simply bragging rights, many newsrooms are slowly morphing from “accurate, fair, and honest” into “immediate” journalism. No one wants to be the last to know.
Suddenly, the competition has become fiercer: instant status updates, tweets, and blogs. Journalists who’ve been formally trained to report news are now up against citizen journalists.
Zahrah Farmer, producer and host of the video series “Days with Zahrah,” believes in equal opportunities for everyone – professional or not – saying, “I think everyone has the right to tell their story.”
Angie Lau, co-director of AAJA’s J Camp and anchor for Bloomberg, adds on, “I think that society is well-served when there are a lot of voices out there reporting, observing. Sometimes they are professionally trained journalists but sometimes they are just from somebody who witnessed an event in history.”
On the other hand, social media users just want to be the first person in their network to update their status, and news outlets desire that first sound bite. This results in a loss of detail and meaning to stories. Farmer believes this is a habit that has formed over time, saying “the media is ultimately trying to entertain, and this is what drives content.”
Gone are the days of reading and watching detailed news reports. In a five-month study done by the Poynter Institute called “EyeTrack07,” researchers studied reading behaviors within a control group.
The results showed that the stories that received the most attention were briefs, editorials, and ones with graphics. An overwhelming 53-percent of newspaper readers scanned headlines first and then their attention shifted to other headlines or pictures before settling on a story to read. After deciding on an article, many resorted to skimming through the content rather than thoroughly reading all the details.
“The attention span of our audience is nil,” said Douglas Gey, professor of television production at Laney College in Oakland, Calif. “We are a visual society and it’s not bad, but it’s just the way we’re going.”
Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook may be great for spreading awareness, but they are also contributing to the growth of short attention spans. EyeTrack07 results showed that a rare percentage of readers want the full story, preferring quick sentences over long, descriptive paragraphs.
Although the news industry is constantly changing, journalists are urged to stick to their ground. Gey stresses the importance of being a a reliable source for the public by reporting the facts and remaining unbiased.
In filtering the many news sources that are available today, Lau says credibility is the main draw. “The consumer needs to understand where their information is coming from and take it with a grain of salt,” she said.
The industry is made up of individual journalists. If each person continues to report honestly and accurately, then the fear for quick journalism will dissipate. Whether it’s a citizen or professional journalist, precision is key. If done correctly, attention span will be the least of worries. At the end of the day, all of America will get the headlines, but it means nothing if what was intended as “news” turn out to be “wrongs.”