The journalists winning the race – to the bottom
The problem with a race to the bottom is that you might win.
I was in the pub celebrating a friend’s birthday on Monday night when my flatmate checked the Guardian app on his phone just before 9pm. “Amanda Knox has lost her appeal” he said, “bloody hell”.
For several minutes we talked about how terrible that must be for her, and how dodgy the police case was – until, that is, I checked Twitter. At which point it got confusing.
“People on Twitter are saying she’s been freed” I said, counting the dozen or so independent tweets from journalists, friends and colleagues.
“Are you sure..?” my flatmate said, reaching for his iPhone.
And so the sorry affair of the obtuse judge, the slow translater and the trigger-happy hacks unfolded.
In this mess lies a really important lesson for online publishers of all creeds, entrepreneurs and young journalists. The race to be faster than your competitors is the same as the race to be cheaper than them: it’s a race to the bottom. There is only one loser in this race and it’s usually you.
I remember an entrepreneur giving me advice last year when I launched my online video production studio: “you don’t want to compete on price – ever.”
So if you run, or want to run, your own publication or business, heed this advice: aim to be the be best: the most accurate, the most accessible, the best produced, the most beautiful – not the fastest and not the cheapest.
Don’t get me wrong, these were one-off mistakes, made by otherwise talented, experienced and honest journalists. But they are mistakes which are only made in a newsroom where the overriding attitude is to be faster. The ethos created the haste, not the journalists themselves.
In a newsroom where quality is king, the hands would have stayed.
I’m convinced if you’re to succeed as an entrepreneurial journalist (or whatever we want to call it), the only way to get ahead of the pack is by betting on quality. Sure, successful new businesses like the Huffington Post and Mashable gamble on quantity but to succeed here you need legacy, or lots of money.
Brian Storm, founder of MediaStorm, made the quality point really well on a recent visit to London. He makes sure everything MediaStorm publishes is as good as it can be – even if it means going several months between each new piece. As he put it: “why be part of the noise?”
The mainstream media (especially those who make speed their tagline) are trapped in this race and can’t reinvent themselves. But that leaves a nice space for the next generation of journalists with a remit of quality.
Whatever kind of journalism you do, aim to produce the best. That is a race to the top: a race worth winning.