Sunday, January 6, 2008

Reporter's Notebook: What qualifies a story as "news" (a little insight into how the media really works)

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS (In transit to Iraq) - As an independent journalist, and newcomer to the news media one of the many interesting things I've been learning over the past year is how it all actually works. Just like any other industry it's all a bit messier and more unsophisticated on the inside than you might imagine as an outsider looking at the polished public product (you don't want to see the sausage being made).

Case in point the mini blizzard of media coverage of John Camp and myself on Friday by half a dozen media organizations. Here is a little chronology and behind the scenes insight into what really happened.

On Thursday a reporter from the St Paul Pioneer press interviewed John about our trip. At the time the assumption was that the story would run sometime next week after we had actually arrived in Iraq. Also on Thursday a reporter at MinnPost gave John and I a set of written questions to respond to before we left for Iraq intended as material for a story that would run on Monday to introduce our Iraq coverage.

Apparently Thursday was a slow news day and the Pioneer Press decided to run the story early ( appeared on the Pioneer Press website at 6:51pm on the 3rd, and ran in the morning paper on the 4th). By 9:00am I'd gotten several emails and calls from people, "Did you see the Pioneer Press?"

This is the point where the sausage factory comes into action. Was the fact that John Camp and I were leaving for Iraq really news worthy enough for half the mainstream media outlets in the Twin Cities to all cover it on the same day in advance of us actually doing anything? Probably not, but as soon as one of them ran it everybody else started jumping on board... not wanting to be late to the party.

At 10:00am WCCO posted the AP syndicated Pioneer Press story on their website:

At 10:30am somebody from KSTP called and asked I could stop by for a quick on camera interview for a story that they had just decided to run on the 6:00pm news in response to the Pioneer Press story.

At 10:56am KSTP posted the AP story on their site with some updated photos:

At 12:40pm Editor & Publisher magazine posted the AP story on their website:

At 2:55pm MinnPost.Com published the story that it had been intending to run on Monday:

At 4:15pm WCCO radio called and asked if I could do a phone interview, and if I could ask John to call them also (which I did). I don't have confirmation as to when or if these interviews actually ran. I somebody reading this heard them I would be curious to hear about it.

At 4:30pm the Minnesota National Guard website posted the AP story on their website:

At 6:00pm KSTP ran a 70 second story on the evening news including video footage that I shot last year in Iraq, and a sound bite from my interview earlier in the day (watch the video here:

At 7:00pm somebody from the Star Tribune left John a voice mail asking to do an interview. He was busy getting ready to leave, and didn't return their call.

There's nothing terrible about any of this, but it does give some insight into how much of our daily news diet at most news organizations is directly influenced by the stories that other news organizations are running vs. being original reporting.

UPDATE: 6.Jan.08

NAMELESS AIRBASE KUWAIT - The Sunday edition of Stars & Stripes, the military newspaper, ran the AP story, and so everybody we talk to here in Kuwait already seems to know who we are...

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Day by Day, by Chris Muir (updated daily)

Chris Muir is the cartoonist that I met in Kuwait. He spent two weeks in Iraq at the same time I was there in February 2007, and so thought it would relevant to showcase his work on my site. Here is a link to Chris' humorous travelogue of this Iraq trip: