Came to think about this after a FB discussion I had with somebody. The argument was about the need for speed in todays media. An argument I have heard so many times.
Basically: How speed is of the essence and the winners of that battle will be the ones to survive in this game. I don’t remember how often I have had someone telling me “now, be sure to transmit your stuff immediately, because the whole concept of our operation is based on delivering the news fast. We gotta be the first.”
I beg to differ.
I remember what I read in a recent publication entitled Post Industrial Journalism about redundancy (Clay Shirky, C.W. Anderson and Emily Bell by Tow Center for digital Journalism, Columbia University). Highly recommended reading, BTW.
“This sort of competition, where every institutution has to cover the same thing in only slightly different ways, was absurd even when those organization were flush. Now, with many resources gone and more going, it is also damaging.”
And I thought of an image I took about five years ago in Beijing as a good example to illustrate this.
The image I am referring to can be seen below. I shot this some thirty minutes before the start of the 100m final in Beijing 2008. The most waited, prestigious event of the whole Olympics program. Happens only once every four years.
Something every sports photographer simply just wants to cover at least once during their career.
Waste of Talent and Resources
Let’s do some calculating: in London Olympics there was 1532 accredited photographers (I don’t know the figure in Beijing, but let us suppose it is of the same ballpark).
Let’s also suppose that two thirds of these photographers show up to shoot the 100m final. Looking at the hardware let’s estimate that each photographer carries say two bodies, couple of small lenses, one bigger one, laptop… Maybe 30K dollars/euros worth of stuff average? Just a ballpark?
So that is 30 million worth of glass and cameras staring at what… 3-5 seconds of action (that is the time window it makes any sense to shoot the action from the head-on platform)?
Then look at the guys doing this. There is some serious talent over there – the best of the best in sports photography right there. And all doing basically (more or less) the same thing.
All having (literally) the same angle to the story. And let me stress: I am not criticizing the guys – they are delivering what is asked – but more the job they (or at least many of them) are expected to do: get the default image and get it out fast.
Talk about redundancy, waste of resources and talent.
5 minutes afterwards
So all of these guys have pictures and the race becomes: who is the first one to get their stuff out there?
Checking the web and what the agencies had to offer c. five minutes afterwards there was about 500 images already edited and published about Usain Bolt crossing the line and setting the new world record.
And one of those images was THE FIRST one. And all of them were “among the first” – and I am sure their papers/websites/agencies were pleased.
Who was it?
The question I am asking: does it matter to the subscriber/reader/viewer who it was? For an agency yes, absolutely, but for a single publication? That THEY had the image out 3 minutes earlier than competing publications?
Or taking it to more mundane level: here in the North Pole we have couple of competing websites fighting for their market share (IL, IS, YLE, HS, MTV3… – that’s about it?).
Does it matter for the reader of these sites – a reader who checks the news ten minutes afterwards – who was the first to show the image and tell the news? As now, ten minutes later, everyone has it.
Sure, the next day the guys in ties in the corner office check publishing times and give feedback: “We lost, we were late…” or “We won!” – depending on the difference of seconds or minutes they see.
But seriously: Who cares?
Then think about the image I am presenting here as an illustration. As I said, I shot that image some 30 minutes before the actual event. It took me couple of hours to edit (hey, this was 2008 and I was doing handcoding with flash…) so I was totally out of the “who was the first” -game.
A total loser in that respect. And yes, my client was not interested having it on their website.
The image got way over a million hits on my website in the days/weeks that followed (and this was at the time when I at least was happily unaware of either Facebook or Twitter).
Why? Because it was not redundant.
What I am saying: maybe – just maybe – we should focus on other aspects of our storytelling instead of speed if we want to keep our audience?
Because if we don’t we just become noise – among other noise already out there.
And as a reader/audience, noise is something you just skip, something you just want to block out.
As a reader, you look for added value, something that stands out.
Maybe instead of speed we should focus on that?