Direct-to-digital daily news?

800px-march_for_life_2007This is rather ironic.

When I got to my office this morning here on Capitol Hill, I picked up the Washington Post and started looking for its story on the annual March for Life, which usually brings somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 people to the city to mark the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. There are times when the advance story makes the Metro front, but most of the time you look for something short inside the paper somewhere.

I’m still looking. Did I miss something?

However, my screen saver is Google News and, sure enough, there was a Post story in the national news section about the march — marked “1 hour ago.” I assume this means that I can stop looking in the newspaper that arrived on the front steps at my office.

Now, in the modern, 24/7 era of digital journalism, there are all kinds of stories, posts and commentaries produced in a major newsroom that never see analog ink. The tree pulp world, after all, is declining while the digital grows.

However, these kinds of editorial decisions are still interesting and, I am sure, some will say that they are revealing.

Think of this as the journalistic equivalent of a movie going “direct to DVD.” Here is a piece of that short online report:

Coming two days after the nation inaugurated a president who is a staunch supporter of abortion rights, the annual March for Life is sure to feel different than it did during the eight years when former President George W. Bush, an abortion opponent, was in the White House.

Bush traditionally sent a presidential message of support to the marchers when they gathered every year. He appointed right-leaning Supreme Court justices who could shift the court’s support for Roe vs. Wade, and his administration implemented several anti-abortion laws, including a prohibition on U.S. aid to international organizations that perform abortions or refer women to abortion clinics.

President Obama, an outspoken supporter of a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, is expected to reverse that prohibition today or in the near future.

March for Life organizers invited the new president to speak at today’s rally, according to a letter posted on the group’s Web site. “America needs your strong leadership as President of all of the people to stop the intentional killing of an estimated 3,000 preborn boys and girls each day and the brutalizing of mind, heart and body of pregnant mothers,” the letter said.

Frankly, the language in that report is solid and rather neutral. It goes on to mention that the march will cause street closings and hassles in the area around the National Mall, which is still being cleaned up after the massive celebrations surround the inauguration. Hopefully, people can read those warnings on their iPhones and Blackberry devices as they drive to work.

Meanwhile, the Washington Times offered an A1 story by Jennifer Harper that forms a rather ironic counterpoint to the short, direct-to-online report at the competition. Here is a piece of that:

… Nellie Gray — who founded the March for Life 36 years ago — pines for some meaningful attention from the press. Her marchers were to hit the streets near the Capitol on Thursday, virtually retracing the steps of an estimated 1.8 million inaugural revelers whose every move was chronicled by a crush of media just two days earlier.

Perhaps journalists are just tired. The chances are good, however, that news organizations will not be in close attendance for the pro-life crowds. The event has not been much of a press draw over time, and this year would seem particularly bleak.

“I’m not complaining that the news people covered the inauguration so closely. It’s all right. We do have a press platform at our march, and I have seen cameras there in the past. But what we usually end up with is a story with a tiny little comment from one individual marcher,” Miss Gray said.

“What we’re more interested in is some full coverage of our life principles, and why we are out here in the middle of winter. Why do people get on buses and come here to the Mall, to talk to Congress? It would help if the press would see that as news,” she said.

I am sure that we will read about the march tomorrow in both papers. It’s hard to ignore that many people in the streets.

Of course, anyone who has worked in journalism knows that the real test of an editor’s interest in an event is in the advance story that is published.

Again, did I miss something in another tree-pulp Post edition? I hope GetReligion readers in the greater Washington, D.C., area can help me answer that question.

Photo: 2007 March for Life in Washington, D.C.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Alyssa Sophia

    I wondered the same thing, as I scoured the pulp and the on-line Post. Had I not seen many men in cassocks this morning as I drove past the Capitol on my way to my Chinatown office, I might have thought the event had be canceled. Odd.

  • Kimberly

    I saw the same thing – thought the Post article was decent and checked to see where it had been placed in the print edition, but it’s only online today so far. It’s written for today, too, so curious (but I guess not surprising) they didn’t actually print it.

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  • Brian

    “President Obama, an outspoken supporter of a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy”

    I am stunned (in a good way) to see wording like this in an MSM piece rather than the usual “right to choice”, but I don’t see this in the linked story. Presumably it was edited out fairly quickly, but the fact that someone who works for the Washington Post wrote this seems very, very interesting…

  • Joe

    Is the march preview really an A-1 story? Doesn’t that placement raise questions about news judgment at the Washingon Times? And where were the pro-choice voices or at least an attempt at balance?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    BRIAN:

    Clearly the story currently on the site is a greatly expanded report — with multiple reporters, note — that is a sign of where coverage is going TOMORROW.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/22/AR2009012200755_pf.html

    JOE:

    Good question. I think the issue of PRESS COVERAGE of the event is an A1 story, in and of itself. I would have pressed for more hard data from content-analysis studies. You know the data exists.

  • Brian

    tmatt: I confess I don’t know the rulebook that the Washington Post follows for its webpage, but it seems to me that it is standard internet practice to keep a story/post intact once you’ve determined it’s “done” enough to post in the first place. If you need to issue corrections then you do so clearly and obviously. If you need to issue “a greatly expanded report” then you make it a separate page. Otherwise it looks like you’re hiding something and not being straight with your readers. Perhaps if the MSM “got” the internet they wouldn’t be in quite the disastrous financial straits they’re in today.

  • Ben

    Brian,

    That’s interesting — I would view the idea of expanding a story online over time to more in tune with “getting the Internet” than the model you want, which is the old print model. I think online journalism is moving toward a situation where stories constantly evolve, rather than hit a story once for a discrete snapshot in time and move on.

  • Brian

    Ben: I disagree very strongly. It is typical on most blogs and other discussion pages to include a short excerpt along with a link to content on other sites (as was done here). The assumption is that the linked content will be the same when your readers click on over to read the whole thing for themselves. If it has changed, a very common assumption is that the source has changed the story to correct some mistake they have made, to respond to pressure from some group or other, or some other reason. If the change is not explained, it is easy to assume non-innocent explanations and subsequently for trust in that outlet to be lost.

  • Jerry

    It’s not only the march that is important to see in the media but also all the statement that are issued around the issues. It’s a blog posting, to be sure, but the issue is framed very well by this:

    But, [Obama] said, “no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make.”

    Mr. Obama’s position has anti-abortion groups worried. The president of National Right to Life, Wanda Franz, predicted that the president would pursue a “radical agenda” and on his watch, the number of abortions would “increase dramatically.”

    http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/22/on-35th-anniversary-obama-praises-roe-v-wade-decision/

    If the President gets his proposals enacted we should see some evidence as to whether that concern is justified or not.

  • Emily

    The current version of the Post’s story lists it as an A2 story for tomorrow… I thought it was actually a decent story. But I didn’t see any advance coverage from the Post aside from their online story, which was originally posted early this morning before the March began.

  • Dave

    I daresay the press was wrung out after covering an historic inauguration attended by a crowd of historic proportions.


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