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This is the news, as seen everywhere else

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Here’s a fascinating post from the Nieman Journalism Lab (h/t to Youku’s @kaiserkuo for digging it out). It’s a write-up of a study into the way news is reported then reprocessed in the modern, connected media. The study took one story (the tracing of the China hacking attack on Google to a couple of schools) and analysed the way the information appeared then spread among the news media. It used Google News to identify 121 unique stories in publications of various sorts (Google News discounts articles that simply reproduce text).

Among its findings were that of the 121 stories, just seven were primarily based on original reporting, and only another 13 included some amount of original reporting. The rest were rehashes, largely of the original New York Times piece.

Does this matter? The write-up is a little ‘o tempora, o mores‘, lamenting the decline of modern journalism. That seems to me a very US attitude. In the UK, where we have much lower expectations of our newspapers, we’ve known that many of our media sources are not always bravely forging their own paths but are quite happy rehashing whatever is already in the public domain.

However, it is depressing that so much of the news we read is simply rehashed, not just by blogs but by ‘proper’ publications. What if a piece is incorrect? How far round the world can it get before anyone notices? And from a PR point of view, how do you repair the damage once untrustworthy information is ‘out there’?

And it’s also depressing that the best examples of journalism appear still to be the places they’ve always been – the seven news sources that actually went out and got their own take on the story were The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Tech News World, Bloomberg, Xinhua and the Global Times. Excluding the two from China, which might be expected to do their own reporting, it’s four newspapers, a news wire and a specialist site. Maybe that’s not surprising, but given the financial pressure newspapers are all under it raises a worrying question: if the crisis in the media world continues to hit their reporting, where in God’s name is the news actually going to come from, aside from press releases?

All things being equal, a shrinking media sector would see the rehashers go to the wall and the ‘proper’ journalists shine. But when were things ever equal?

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Written by davidtiltman

February 25, 2010 at 4:19 pm

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