The battle between Speed and Accuracy in Online Journalism

In the wake of this week’s “speed vs. accuracy” exam for QUTOJ1 students, I’ve realised one major thing.

…I’m something of a perfectionist…

By this, I mean I probably spend far too much time considering every sentence, trying to ensure each sentence imparts as much information as possible.  I’m also someone who will (usually) try to double check (or even triple check) any facts before I commit them to the page.  In essence, I want to make each sentence as an efficient use of words and page space as possible.

Which is probably, as it turns out, a somewhat inefficient use of my time*

But at least I’ll get good marks for accuracy.  Right?

However, I do understand the need for speedy writing in journalism, particularly in the online sphere.  The news moves so fast nowadays, particularly in the era of 24-hour news channels.  We are constantly being reminded that, in today’s world, “the deadline is now.”

Life in the fast lane

But what exactly is driving this “need for speed”

Kendyl Salcito, from the Centre for Journalism Ethics (at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) says the proliferation of news outlets – “bloggers by the millions… but also cable… satellite television” has led to a “multi-media race” to get “the story 24-hours a day.  She notes that the public has an increasing demand to see news “as it happens”, particularly for coverage of natural disasters or other breaking events.

However, Salcito also says that “as the pace intensifies, so does the pressure to cut corners,” and that “laziness, lack of rigor and other bad habits” can complicate the ethics of speed and accuracy.

Ironically enough, the public that were hounding journalists for speedy information also expect the news media to create accurate and verified reports.


Former Washington journalist and journalism lecturer, Don Campbell, gives some good examples of errors that have occurred when journalists were too hasty (and perhaps merely repeated internet rumour without verification…).  For instance:

1. Reporting Arizona congresswoman Gabrille Giffords as deceased after being shot in the head.  She in fact survived.

2. Reporting an American governor was facing a federal indictment on tax charges.  However, he didn’t have any evidence to support his claim and Campbell describes this as clear “character assassination”, with the blogger responsible putting “speed ahead of the basic principles of accuracy and verification.”

However, something Campbell found more troubling was that credible news organisations (e.g. The New York Times or Washington Post) ran one of these inaccurate stories on their online sites.  This is the most troubling thing to me – if even these large, respected media organisations are putting speed before accuracy, I do wonder what future there is for someone like me who obsesses over detail?

Fastest fingers in the West?

At the end of the day, I think it’s a fine balancing act I’ll definitely need to learn to walk along (and quickly).  However, I still think my somewhat pedantic attention to detail has a place – just maybe not in an online newsroom.

I think Salcito’s article gives me a good question to ponder:

“How much accuracy is too much, when news must be current?”

Or maybe I should just type faster?

*EDIT: my woeful (i.e. “no”) marks for speed prove this!



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