May 11, 2014

#Journalists lusting for scoops — #masturbatory, or something beyond?

Felix Salmon, from an international journalism conference recently, called lusting after scoops "masturbatory." Specifically:
“Breaking news is the most masturbatory thing journalists do. The reader couldn’t give a flying fuck who broke it.”
And, he's in the right vein on the first, and totally right on the second, by and large.

Readers, for the most part, unless they're avid news-followers (I refuse to use the word "consumers" in conjunction with news) don't check for a byline. Those of us who do, do so precisely because we're looking for possible bias and accuracy issues, whether on a scoop, investigative journalism, news analysis or whatever.

That said, I'm not sure "masturbatory" is quite right. Yes, it does capture the self-focus of scoop-hunting, but it doesn't get at everything.

I used an even more sexual, and more specifically male, observation, in tweeting back to Salmon. I called scoop lust "dick-swinging."

Because that is what it is. It goes back to the old, almost all male (and all white male) newspapers of pre-World War II at a minimum, and even back to the Spanish-American War days of yellow journalism. A bunch of old white males, overloaded with testosterone, and usually overloaded with booze, too, were prime grounds for swinging dick contests, and hunting for scoops, damn the accuracy of their content, and usually damn the ethics of how they were obtained, was the coin in trade for measuring dick swinging.

He's now blogged about that in more detail, here. Here's what I'd call his nutgraf (speaking of sexually laden journalism):
Outside newswires, on the other hand, chasing after scoops is silly — especially in the 99% of cases where the news is certain to come out soon enough anyway. Many highly-respected newscasts and magazines rarely or never break news; conversely, many low-quality, high-velocity websites are constantly churning out microscoops of zero importance. It seems self-evident to me that all news organizations should decide whether or not to publish information based on the inherent quality of the content in question, and the degree to which that information serves the publication’s readers. Instead, far too many news organizations make their publication decisions based on what other news organizations have already published.
From there, he notes that his promotes solipsism within the journalism profession, then within individuals, hence "masturbatory" as an act of self-satisfaction. Related to that, he says most scoops are written for other journalists, not the general public.

Pretty much so. But, masturbatory doesn't capture the dick-swinging part, which has infected most women in the media, too.

And, per the yellow journalism issue, each advance in electronic communications has only increased the scoops lust. Having telegraph service connected to railroads was the first great accelerator. Then came telephones, letting people dictate more complete information for scoops. Then, print media scoop lusters felt the pressure from radio, the first electromagnetic media. And, so on and so on.

That said, scoops today are also written for bean-counters. This is explicitly true of what Salmon calls "microscoops," especially at papers like The Oregonian, where Advance's bean-counters are counting pageviews of reporters and it's tied to their pay.

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