Content Part III

At work last night, I came across a story that got me thinking: a national story about Earth Hour. We’d covered Earth Hour like crazy in the week leading up to it and it was a given it would have to go in the paper.

In Canada goes dark for Earth Hour, the reporter quoted from the official Earth Hour Facebook site, a blogger in Ottawa, a blogger in Halifax, a person who attended an Earth Hour event in Toronto, an Ontario electricity spokesperson, the Earth Hour website, a Canadian Tire store’s website, an online activity list for a school in Alberta and a woman named Evelyn.

So of nine sources quoted in the story (an impressive number on the surface), two were from apparent interviews and seven were from online research.

My opinion on this is just my own opinion — other editors and reporters obviously feel differently — but to me, this is bad reporting, for two reasons.

  1. It’s lazy. Instead of doing the legwork and setting up interviews, the reporter surfs the Internet. Quoting from blogs and websites and Facebook pages sometimes has its place, but to build an article mainly around that is lazy. Interviews are two-way streets, with follow-up questions and interaction, and are a much better way to collect information.
  2. It’s dangerous. If we as journalists are just quoting from websites and blogs, what in the world do we have to offer that websites and blogs don’t offer? Why don’t we just make a bunch of links for our readers and abandon ship?

(A note: the version that ran in our paper, with a photo from Ottawa, was shortened, partly for space reasons.)

Now, the Internet is no doubt an amazing tool for journalists (I find it so hard to imagine/remember what it was like when I didn’t have a Google query at my fingertips for any question). It provides so many more tools for finding sources and researching issues. But should it become a substitution for interview-based reporting?

My answer to that is no. A vehement no. And it goes back to the argument I made in the Content Content Content post: The most valuable thing news organizations have to offer is the original reporting, the information you can’t get anywhere else.

Maybe you could make the argument that news organizations could provide a role in writing stories based on Internet research because the reporter is still doing the valuable job of spending the time browsing the sites and condensing the information down to a 500-word story. But it is still just a regurgitation of information that is already out there and in my opinion, our time should be better spent bringing new information to the table.

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