Responsible Reporting Takes Time

I rarely go to Facebook, but my niece was in San Diego County for a few days, and checking up on her travels was a must. During the brief FB foray, a Newsfeed post nipped my attention. Erica Toelle asks: “Bloggers, how long does it take you to write a 1,000 word, well researched and well-written article? I realize ‘it depends’ but it’s usually longer than 4hrs, right? I’m working with under-documented technology and usually have to try it to understand how it works”.

The question is hugely relevant at a time when speed too often trumps accuracy—or accountability—and many writers must meet (often ridiculous) daily quotas. Then there is the controversy about so-called fake news.

Asked and Answered
My initial reply (text italicized rather than blockquoted):

Are you referring to straight writing, or reporting, too? I assume both. I generally report and research first, then write afterwards—the presumption being that your first-hand reporting should drive the story. During this process, the narrative coalesces in my mind and tends to flow faster. I can write 1,000 words in under four hours, once the majority of reporting is complete. That said, I find writing time takes longer now that I am older and because of interruptions. One of these is adding links while I write, which disrupts the flow or sucks time to add them later.

Bottom line: Few stories that are properly sourced—meaning you directly report or research rather than link to someone else’s reporting secondhand—should take less than four hours to write. Responsible reporting takes time. Sometimes four days, or four weeks, isn’t enough to get the facts straight. That said, for news where the facts are present and compact—like a tech company’s quarterly earnings—I can competently punch out 1,000 words or more in about four hours. Exception, not typical.

She thanks me, adding: “They want unique content, so thinking about that as reporting—I often have to reach out to people to get the facts straight—is extremely helpful”.

My reply:

I tell journalists—and the same should apply to bloggers: write what you know to be true. As for original content, there’s too much of any content out there. People are overwhelmed, whether blogs, news orgs, social media, and anything else. Successful content creation is about audience. Original content isn’t enough, if that’s what they want from you. A short, well-written story can be more effective than a longer one, if people like it and you the writer. Engaging readers—say, through comments—can extend the storytelling and make even more interesting reading, while building a potentially loyal audience. YOU are the brand. Build on yourself.

Facebook commenting is a rare occurrence for me. I detest the anti-social network, which it is. But the masses go to where others gather. Eh? Strangely, therein lies my too-subtle a point: Don’t follow the herd; report responsibly. Take the time necessary to do nothing less.

F-f-f-fake News
Mainstream media is all hot and haughty about so-called fake news. Yet professional bloggers and journalists are among the biggest spreaders of misinformation. The problem starts with sourcing, which can be weak to absent when writers push to meet daily quotas. As I first griped, in March 2010 primer “The Difference Between Blogging and Journalism“:

News aggregators and, perhaps worse, news blogs regurgitate news in the most insidious way: Double-one-sideness, by sourcing one side of often single-sourced stories. Aggregators, like so many other blogs, typically source news to another blog or news site rather than doing original reporting. This kind of sourcing legitimizes what in this era of rumor as news could be factually flawed. A good journalist does original reporting, starting with seeking out additional or even independent sources. The objective is two-fold: Accuracy and objectivity…

Using a single source is often careless. Referring to another blog or news source as single source is reckless. Reporting news based on a single, anonymous source is negligence.  Good journalists are mindful of their sourcing, particularly those sources who aren’t identified. One rampant problem: The increasing number of unnamed single-sourced blog posts or news stories that seemingly countless other blogs link to. Gossip and rumor runs amok masked as news. Let be me clear: Just because everybody is saying some true doesn’t make it that way. It’s my observation that most rumor posts remain uncorrected when later proved to be wrong.

I have harped on this problem for more than seven years, long before the so-called fake news hubbub. By propagating a climate that nurtures rumors and misinformation, because they don’t take the time necessary to research and report responsibly, professional bloggers and journalists have fertilized the soil in which so-called fake news grows. They have lowered audience expectations about what is accepted as factual by their own disregard.

Erica is right to wonder about how long researched/reported content should take to write. Time is the most-important ingredient—and one often omitted or diminished to meet quotas or achieve first-post placement for the purpose of generating pageviews that the Google Free Economy demands.

Read These!
For background, here are a dozen of my previous analyses, presented oldest to newest:

Can You Charge for News? Ask Google“, Aug. 11, 2009

There can’t be a Free Web if No One Pays“, Dec. 3, 2009

The Difference Between Blogging and Journalism“, March 22, 2010

What is Clickbait?“, Nov. 12, 2014

I am NOT an Old School Journalist“, Nov. 13, 2014

When News Sourcing is Conflict of Interest“, Nov. 19, 2014

Responsible Journalism Cheat Sheet“, Jan. 27, 2015

Who Mourns for the Fourth Estate? (Part 1)“, Sept. 18, 2015

Who Mourns for the Fourth Estate? (Part 2)“, Sept. 30, 2015

The Four Bad Habits of News Sourcing“, April 24, 2016

You’ve Been Misled About Fake News“, Nov. 20, 2016

Praise Be Citizen Journalists“, April 16, 2017

Photo Credit: Erin Trombley