Old news as new news is bad news
Acting on this better-late-than-never insight, the AP is changing the way it writes stories. Not the way it reports stories, mind you. Just the way it writes them. This is a step in the write -- err, right -- direction, but, as will be discussed shortly, only a half-baked one.
Traditionally, a news story is written in the fashion illustrated by this example from the AP:
MOSUL, Iraq (AP) A suicide attacker set off a bomb that tore through a funeral tent jammed with Shiite mourners Thursday, splattering blood and body parts over rows of overturned white plastic chairs. The attack, which killed 47 and wounded more than 100, came as Shiite and Kurdish politicians in Baghdad said they overcame a major stumbling block to forming a new coalition government.The above version is just the ticket for breaking news on radio, TV or the web, but it is pretty stale by the next morning for newspaper readers who have been keeping up with the news via the other media. In an effort to put a fresh spin on an old story for the next day, therefore, the AP now will be providing alternate ledes like this one:
MOSUL, Iraq (AP) Yet again, almost as if scripted, a day of hope for a new,democratic Iraq turned into a day of tears as a bloody insurgent attack undercut a political step forward. On Thursday, just as Shiite and Kurdish politicians in Baghdad were telling reporters that they overcame a major stumbling block to forming a new coalition government, a suicide attacker set off a bomb that tore through a funeral tent jammed with Shiite mourners in the northern city of Mosul.While it is a positive step to recognize that newspapers no longer can get away with reporting day-old news as though it were fresh baked, it is not enough to simply reconstitute old news into new ledes. For newspapers to be successful over the long run, they have to add value by reporting fresh information, explaining the background, analyzing the consquences, predicting future developments and so forth. That is the strength and appeal of print.
Because most newspapers are thinning their staffs in the intersts of enhancing productivity (supersizing profits), they are turning to the AP, an industry-funded, newsgathering consortium, to help fill more column inches. Encumbered by budget limitations of its own, the AP is trying to solve the freshness problem by having rewrite persons slap a new top on the old news.
The problem is that newspaper readers, an increasingly rarefied segment of the population, won't be fooled by old news in new ledes. They'll just be insulted.