I went on a little rant last week about whether media outlets are dividing up their resources in savvy ways. One of the biggest issues I see is whether reporters should rush to cover the latest trending topic when they’re not given the time to develop unique, original stories.
One of the most obvious examples of a flocking to the same story trend came last week with President Obama’s announcement on same-sex marriage. The announcement was a big deal, for many, many reasons. Yes, I also contributed a piece to the flock of stories. But are media outlets, in their attempts to cover the “big story,” allocating their resources wisely? Let’s look at two articles as case studies.
First, we have Reuters, a wire service that managed to produce the most predictable 550-word story with eight — eight! — staffers. They did win the prize for the most bizarre lede of the day:
Some rejoiced in the U.S. president’s courage. Others predicted hellfire at the polls. One pastor said he would reflect on the matter in prayer.
I don’t doubt that someone somewhere predicted hellfire at the polls, but none of the quotes in the story back up that lede. Instead, the quotes are full of might-as-well-be-press-release-material quotes.
“It just makes me giddy with joy. I have been bouncing around all day,”
“I’m not happy with it. I believe scripture. God’s word says gay marriage is wrong.”
Quote from a statement
Quote from a statement
“I don’t think that’s appropriate for the president,” Bargaineer said. “The Bible’s strictly against that.”
“Because he understands oppression, he knows that loves is no second-class thing,”
“It has taken him a while to get there,” he said, “but it is just deeply moving for me to hear the president of the United States finally acknowledge the full dignity and humanity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and our families.”
Really? This is what an international wire service moves? If the story had one reporter on the breaking news story, I might understand it. But eight — again, eight — reporters dredged up these quotes?
Second, we have the New York Times, which devoted nine reporters for its second-day story. I think we’re supposed to be impressed that the reporters come from all around the country?
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. apologized to President Obama for hastening him into an endorsement of same-sex marriage, several people briefed on the exchange said Thursday, even as the White House sought to capitalize in the campaign on Mr. Obama’s long-awaited expression of support.
Well, what did Biden say?
Many conservative advocacy groups displayed no such reticence to wade into the debate. These groups, which will play major roles in trying to motivate voters to the polls, see an opportunity to drive a wedge between Mr. Obama and religious voters, a group he made significant inroads with in 2008.
Well, what are the polls showing?
Despite the White House friction, by Thursday there were signs that Mr. Obama’s comments had compelled a number of liberal donors, who had previously remained on the sidelines, to open their wallets.
Well, how much money did he raise in the first day?
Sure, you won’t get to those questions when you’re breaking news, but if you’re putting nine reporters on it for a second day follow, you should be able to get more specifics. The piece focuses on OMG, what is this going to do for the election, and not OMG, what is this going to mean legally. For the latter angle, I looked to coverage from Scotusblog to explain some really basic facts about what Obama’s announcement did–and didn’t–say. For instance, the federal government hasn’t and probably won’t get involved in a challenge to Proposition 8. So what does Obama’s support mean at the state level, when he’s said it’s not a federal issue?
In our two case studies, one is a wire service and one is a national newspaper, so of course they’re going to devote a lot of resources to a major story. But did they break any ground that other people weren’t going to break? Not in those pieces.
Image of the Pied Piper via Wiki Commons.