Crazy like a hamster

by October 28, 2010

The New York City newsroom of the Associated Press

As the primary author of a blog which aims to produce posts at the head-spinning rate of once every day or two (don’t take notes: this may change), and as the editor of a magazine that will produce issues once every three months, I’m increasingly aware of the importance (and difficulty) of selecting the combination of frequency, length, and quality that will most appeal to current and future readers.

One option that we have not chosen, however, is the “hamster wheel” of ever-more-frequent, ever-shorter, and ever-more-trivial news stories offered today by major newspapers. In the latest issue of Columbia Journalism Review, Dean Starkman humorously and incisively describes the origins of and motivations behind this phenomenon, and the inescapable harm it is doing to modern society, not to mention the modern press:

The Hamster Wheel isn’t speed; it’s motion for motion’s sake. The Hamster Wheel is volume without thought. It is news panic, a lack of discipline, an inability to say no. It is copy produced to meet arbitrary productivity metrics (Bloomberg!). It is “Sheriff plans no car purchases in 2011,” (Kokomo Tribune, 7/5/10). It is “Ben Marter’s Home-Cooked Weekend,” (Politico, 6/28/10): “Saturday morning, he took some of the leftover broccoli, onions, and mushrooms, added jalapenos, and made omeletes for a zingy breakfast.” Ben Marter is communications director for a congresswoman. It’s live-blogging the opening ceremonies, matching stories that don’t matter, and fifty-five seconds of video of a movie theater screen being built: “Wallingford cinema adding 3 screens (video),” (New Haven Register, 6/1/10).

But it’s more than just mindless volume. It’s a recalibration of the news calculus.

Read the rest here.