Clark Hoyt's latest column as New York Times public editor highlights a significant challenge for all newsrooms in the 21st century: Being first can mean being looser with the facts and techniques.
His column examines the Times' handling of the Caroline Kennedy candidacy for the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton in New York. He looked specifically at information discrediting Kennedy from anonymous sources close to the governor and wondered if Kennedy would have been treated the same if reporters were working toward only a newspaper deadline.
"This is where the print newspaper and the digital newspaper are colliding. The traditional once-a-day cycle allows more time for reporting and thoughtful discussion about how a story should be framed. What happened in this case is that normal news reporting, in which a story changes in content, tone and emphasis as more is learned, played out in front of the whole world, instead of in the newsroom before publication. In the process, Kennedy took an unfair hit."
Apart from the circumstances of this case, all newsrooms are under greater than ever pressure to be first and to develop a reputation online as the fastest with information. The result is not dissimilar to wire service reporting --- stories develop in stages and are reported in real time --- but the difference is that their evolution is public.
Our own newsroom manages this with great care, because it is irresponsible to assume that it's possible to overwrite an initial error with a sturdier second take. It's as important as ever to get it right the first time.
It's coaxing us (but unfortunately, not everyone else) to be cautious in our first blast of information about a developing story. We go with what little we know for certain instead of what we believe might be true on the basis of lots of information. If that sounds any different than what we publish in the newspaper, it shouldn't.
It means often being the most conservative with the first blush of information. Others might be more out there --- and might even have better resources to develop a particular story --- but we'd rather not risk our reputation than run anything recklessly.
As for policies, they hold across platforms with one exception we and others wrestle with --- the presence of anonymous comments on stories. We permit much more in the way of anonymous commentary than we would in, say, the letters section of the newspaper. We're still trying to sort through that issue and welcome your suggestions.