Needless Speed

In the introduction to his new blog, Dave Weigel writes:

The political news cycle moves fast, mercilessly fast. It used to be that you could settle on the sources you trusted for news and wait for them to report. That’s not really the case anymore. The first things you read—the first things I read—are the first few takes on stories. Five or six versions come out of the cannon, and the rest of the media catches up. That’s only how the news cycle works, of course. Some of the stories that matter are the ones that would not have been told if a reporter didn’t spend time uncovering it or a whistleblower didn’t spend time leaking it. But most of the stories are the ones that someone was simply the first to grab onto—a new political ad, a campaign finance oppo dump, something like that.

Is that true?

I hope it isn’t. And even though my job requires that I stay very plugged into the news — everyday I am blogging, staying on top of items to send Andrew Sullivan, and generating ideas for Forbes or Daily Beast columns and other freelance pieces — often the place I find a story is via someone I selected for quality, and whose work I therefore get via my Google Reader or Twitter feed.

The whole of Red State or Big Government could be writing about a story before anyone else, but having concluded that I don’t know when I can trust them, and it isn’t worth the time and effort to fact check their work before writing about it, I won’t see the story until Dave Weigel or Chris Beam or Tim Carney or Mark Hemingway or some other person whose work I follow gets to it.

And I really don’t care if it’s a day later.

Do most people care? Are information consumers really as concerned with speed and being first as journalists think? Yes, if I need text of a speech that President Obama has just given, I go to The Huffington Post because I know they’ll post it first, but generally, having to wait another 12 or 24 hours to read better writing and analysis would almost always be worth it to me.

It’s only the difference of a few hours. And I can’t help but think that the emphasis on the speed of the news cycle is producing some bizarre behavior. Some scandal breaks, and there’s pressure to fire someone that same day. News breaks that cuts against some position I’ve been arguing, and I’ll get emails or Twitter pings two hours later asserting that I am avoiding the story, when actually, I’ve just been playing tennis with my girlfriend, and I haven’t seen it yet, let alone responded, because there is nothing like the urgency some people imagine to do so.

I think I saw something about someone wanting to start a Slow Journalism movement. I am on board. Or if no one said that, then I’m doing so now. We’ll wait somewhat longer to write up news and analysis, worry less about news pegs, blog about worthwhile books that were published four years ago and articles that appeared on the Web five months ago, or seven years ago. We’ll lose the morning, every morning, but we’ll win the week. Or the month.