By Laura D. Testino
The news never stops. Twitter never stops. And Joe Weisenthal never stops.
Weisenthal, known online as @TheStalwart, left his position as executive editor of Business Insider a year ago today for a television position with Bloomberg Media. While with Business Insider, New York Magazine published an article about Weisenthal’s media consumption and production habits, reporting that they began after a good night’s sleep of 5-6 hours at the early morning hour of 4a.m. Weisenthal would wake up, send a tweet to his followers asking what he missed while asleep, then spend an additional two hours before work sleuthing the internet and emails of financial reports.
“He is like the host of a daylong radio show, except no one speaks out loud,” Binyamin Appelbaum reported for New York Magazine. “He rarely makes phone calls. His phone almost never rings.”
But this intense dedication to financial news produced a 150-tweet, 15-story, 16-hour day. The content produced ranged from short and snarky to several hundred words, New York Magazine reported. And @TheStalwart often was first to report new data, without getting an early media advance.
While Stalwart-like swiftness in reporting has become increasingly popular online, the media needs to continue to provide in-depth coverage of events, assessing the consequences rather than just reporting a single event. Weisenthal has been able to do both, but often, news outlets stop at quick bursts and updates, and don’t write a later analysis of a news story. These in-depth stories should be more noticeable and just a viral on digital media.
“There’s nothing stopping a news site from publishing a longer-form story online,” Kira Goldenberg reported in her Columbia Journalism Review article, “Journalism Ethics in a Digital Age.” “But [Monica] Guzman is right that, when it comes to the digital space, slow journalism is usually an afterthought. Rather, we continue trying to break news as fast as possible. Too often, online coverage becomes an absurd dash for clicks on incremental scoops.”
Goldenberg is referring to an anecdote Guzman told at a Poynter Conference on the topic – after continually reporting online about an escaped bear in the area, Guzman’s media outlet never ran a print piece. A competing newspaper ran an entire narrative of the bear.
“For the first time in a long time I thought, ‘Oh man, there’s a reason the print product’s kind of nice,’” Guzman said.
The trend toward posting more short and to-the-point digital news stories could be linked to ethical practices in the media, focusing either on consequences or duties. Teleological practices focus on the outcome, where deontological practices focus on the process. For this reason, the digital sector of media generally follows teleological ethics – desiring clicks or being the first to break a story, for example.
Focusing on this outcome leads to a concentration on items in the media that are trending or viral. While these in-depth stories are sometimes written, they are not often presented as urgently as breaking news when published online.
“And journalists must recognize, to paraphrase researcher Danah Boyd, that we are only using tiny portions of social networks and that relevant sources exist beyond them,” Goldberg said. “We journalists may lose relevance unless we learn to work within rules we don’t always get to make.”
Understanding how digital platforms work, and striving for vast dissemination of all media types (while still finding time for sleep) is where journalists can learn from Weisenthal’s mixed-use of digital media.
This can be directly applied to current media situations, particularly with video coverage. Often, the video becomes the news rather than the narrative surrounding the video. Specifically, one could compare the number of shares on the recent video of a police officer using a Taser on University of Alabama student with the number of shares and popularity of more in-depth coverage. Although the video article contains updates, separate stories could be more beneficial and are not being added to the constancy of the news cycle.
A teleological ethical perspective can be beneficial, but should be paired with some focus on duty, or deontology. Rather than only focusing on clicks and initial coverage for a news issue, journalists, like Weisenthal, should remember the duties they have to their audiences to provide more than just a stream of quick facts.