Real life is slow; it takes professionals time to figure out what happened, and how it fits into context. Technology is fast. Smartphones and social networks are giving us facts about the news much faster than we can make sense of them, letting speculation and misinformation fill the gap. It has only gotten worse. As news organizations evolved to a digital landscape dominated by apps and social platforms, they felt more pressure to push news out faster.
Now, after something breaks, we’re all buzzed with the alert, often before most of the facts are in. So you’re driven online not just to find out what happened, but really to figure it out. This was the surprise blessing of the newspaper. I was getting news a day old, but in the delay between when the news happened and when it showed up on my front door, hundreds of experienced professionals had done the hard work for me. Now I was left with the simple, disconnected and ritualistic experience of reading the news, mostly free from the cognitive load of wondering whether the thing I was reading was possibly a blatant lie.
As you’ve probably heard, last weekend there was an incident in Münster, Germany where a car drove in a café full of people, killing at least 3. Normally, my reaction to this kind of breaking news is to always avoid social media and news tv channels in the first few hours.
This time was different: I was trapped at my parent’s house doing some renovation and had to endure German tv news channel n-tv within 10 minutes of the first reports of this incident. My parents are the kind of news consumer that will immediately switch to a news channel the second something happens.
During the following 2 hours I was reminded, why I hate following breaking news stories: nobody knew anything, but of course this didn’t prevent anchors, eyewitnesses and self proclaimed experts to speculate about who did this and why.
This is why I think the linked column of Farhad Manjoo is spot-on. The classic newspaper still has a massive advantage over online-only publications. Those print journalists usually – of course depending on what time it happened – have a few hours to collect all information and prepare them for the reader. In contrast to online, printed articles tend to stick to the facts and be way more conservative with speculation – at least if you wisely chose your newspaper – because what is printed can’t be edited or undone a few hours later.