Instant news: tasty as instant coffee?

>Suddenly realizing it was newspaper blog day, I thought I’d check out the front pages of some of the nation’s daily newspapers via Internet. I figured they’d all have about the same content and I certainly expected they’d be somewhat fixed in form for the day. Wrong.

The big dailies that I saw are following the lead of the online news sites, such as Google, Yahoo and CNN.com. Their online content is fluid, forever changing. This is what it was at 11 a.m. This is what it was at 1:15. If I check at 3, it will have changed again. It’s all headlines, information skimmed off the top and hurriedly thrown online. In the process of keeping up the web content, how can any reporter or editor take the time to get into the guts of a story and make sense of it for the reader? And how can they ever declare a story finished?

I realize that newspapers are trying to compete with the other media. Thousands of reporters and editors have been laid off, necessiting the use of whatever help the remaining staff can get to produce the paper. Many reporters and editors are required to produce blogs in addition to their print work. How could they possibly have time to dig into any story, using original sources and not just borrowing from the other media, which are skimming from still other media? I worry that we’re becoming an off-the-top nation and young readers don’t know what they’re missing. We all want instant news, and sometimes it takes time to find out what really happened and craft a well-written story. The newspaper article used to be the definitive word, but I’m not sure that’s the case anymore.

Yes, papers are still printing feature sections that last a while, and the good ones do investigative and narrative pieces that you can’t get into a 30-second soundbite, a quick hit on the computer or the streamer at the bottom of the TV screen. But when the news keeps changing, it’s hard to get a grip on what’s going on.

What’s the connection to freelancing? Not much. Most front page stories of major newspapers are done by staff writers or wire services. Freelancers do the editorial material inside, the features and special sections. There, they are always pressed for space, but at least it doesn’t change once it’s in print. Yet.

What’s the solution? Do the best you can and prepare to be flexible.

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