It’s that time of year again, when journalists all take their vacations, the B-teams take over to deal with any breaking news (like, say, an unscheduled mob shooting), and the news media fill the lack of news with retrospectives of the year gone by, the journalistic equivalent of a clip show.
The Gazette devotes a page a day over 10 days to the subject, looking back at both 2009 and the 2000s as a whole.
Dave Bist, a highly-respected senior news editor at The Gazette, wrote one of those year-in-retrospective stories for Sunday’s paper about the Michael Jackson story, and his decision not to tear up the front page to run with it.
His reasoning was that by the morning after, everyone would have known that Jackson was dead (including readers of montrealgazette.com, where the story was played up), and because The Gazette had nothing original to offer on the story (the original plan for A1 had a Gazette exclusive, albeit a small one). So instead, Jackson took over the skybox above the Page 1 flag, as well as a large part of the Arts section inside.
It’s a decision that makes sense, but wouldn’t have 15 years ago before the creation of the Internet. Though I worry a bit sometimes about newspapers being so desperate to “advance” a story that they neglect to mention what actually happened for the record (like, say, “Man walks moon“). People still pick up newspapers even if they know what the story is, just to see it on paper. Barack Obama’s election, the Alouettes’ Grey Cup win, or the next Canadiens Stanley Cup, which should come any time now. If I pick up the paper, I want to see “Canadiens win Cup”, not “RDS hurries to schedule parade coverage after NHL playoffs end early”, even if the latter advances the story.
And while the print world considers what to do about their front pages, the online world is still trying to figure out how to balance so-called “top stories”. Right now, the emphasis seems to be on time more than importance – big news websites are expected to change their top story on an almost hourly basis, unless the story is so important that it trumps all others. People complain when they see that the top story is about some recent traffic accident or something sports-related, but they’re applying the old newspaper Page 1 logic to the Internet.
I’m still conflicted about it. This blog is strictly chronological, so an important feature might be pushed down by some funny cat video I found online a few minutes later. That clearly doesn’t work for a large media organization that has so much content that nobody should be expected to read it all. But keeping the same story up for hours or even days at a time makes it boring and discourages people from coming back.
Ideally, we’d have a dual system, where you can check the top story on the homepage or see the stories posted chronologically, depending on your preference (the Toronto Star is trying something like that). And, of course, tagging, RSS feeds and topic pages means the homepage won’t be the point of entry for many visitors.
So maybe this whole discussion will become irrelevant.