Were CNN & Fox News’ mistakes on Supreme Court ruling part of ‘process journalism’?

We all know that CNN and Fox News mistakenly reported Thursday that the Supreme Court struck down the “individual mandate” part of the health care law. How did this happen? Who’s responsible?

I blame Jeff Jarvis.

Fox and CNN’s mistakes stemmed from their decisions to report what they knew, or thought they knew, as soon as they knew it. In other words, it stemmed from their embrace of process journalism: Publish what you have now, figure out the story as you go, correct your mistakes as you update.

These reporters knew little and figured wrong. But that’s not necessarily a strike against you when practicing process journalism. When Jarvis coined the term in 2009, he framed it as a type of journalism that valued learning and discovery, not just the final product.

Jarvis told me via email that he “could not disagree more strongly” with my assessment that the news channels were practicing process journalism.

This was not a matter of reporting what you know when you know it. This was a matter of reporting your misunderstandings before you know enough to say that you know anything.

Thursday’s lesson, he wrote, is that “the scoop is and always has been a dangerous act of journalistic narcissism.” (He posted his full response on his blog.)

Perhaps it was poor execution. Perhaps it wasn’t the right story for this approach. But it looks like process journalism to me.

Reporting what you know

Fox News and CNN made it clear in their initial reports that they were giving viewers information in real-time, before they had the full story. Here’s how it went down on Fox News when anchor Bill Hemmer went to Shannon Bream at the Supreme Court:

Bream: “We’ve just gotten the opinion, I’m just getting a first look at it. It is authored by the chief justice, John Roberts. He has language specifically going to the Commerce Clause and whether the mandate is OK or not under the Commerce Clause … He says the individual mandate cannot be sustained under Congress’ power to regulate commerce. That means the mandate is gone. … We’ll take a look and I’ll try to get to severability as well…”

Hemmer: “All right, Shannon, because we are looking at this and we are trying – We talked about the fog of law, and to our viewers at home, be patient with us as we work through this. Megan, you’re seeing something, what is that?”

Megyn Kelly then said Fox was getting “conflicting information” and cited SCOTUSblog’s report that the mandate had been upheld as a tax.

How it played out on CNN:

Wolf Blitzer: “Hold on a second, hold on a second. Kate Bolduan has got some information. Kate, go ahead, tell us what’s going on.”

Bolduan: “This is our first read and we’re still going through the … opinion. But I wanted to bring you the breaking news that according to producer Bill Mears, the individual mandate is not a valid … exercise of the Commerce Clause. So it appears as if the Supreme Court justices have struck down the individual mandate, the centerpiece of the health care legislation. I’m going to hop back on this phone to try to get more information and bring it right to you, Wolf.”

Blitzer: “Wow, that’s a dramatic moment, if in fact the Supreme Court has ruled that the individual mandate is in fact unconstitutional, that would be history unfolding right now. It raises questions about any of this health-care reform law.” …

John King: “The court striking down that mandate is a dramatic blow to the policy and to the president. … The justices have just gutted, Wolf, the centerpiece provision of the Obama health care law. … A direct blow to the president of the United States, a direct blow to his Democratic Party.”

Blitzer: “Yeah, if in fact that’s the final word on the individual mandate. It could be a little bit more complicated…”

Talk about figuring it out in public: They qualified their statements with phrases like “first read,” “first look,” and “it appears.” The anchors tried to triangulate what their reporters were saying with what they were hearing elsewhere. This sort of thing is not new on live TV.

Jarvis has said those practicing process journalism must provide “caveats and context. The same is true of 24-hour cable news, where the viewer must become the editor, understanding the difference between what is known now and what can be confirmed later.”

CNN overreaches on multiple platforms

Though Fox News quickly backtracked its initial report, CNN took longer. In the meantime, it spread its incorrect conclusion beyond the broadcast onto its website, Twitter and email alerts, without the qualifiers that accompanied the initial, on-air reporting.

Though my Poynter colleague Jeff Sonderman disagrees that these news outlets were practicing process journalism, he said it’s important to tell people what you don’t know.

If you’re going to treat reporting as a process, you have to acknowledge at all times where that process stands. And that’s where CNN, if it was indeed intending upon process journalism, fell short.

Process journalism requires metadata — the information about the information. It requires journalists to report not only their current understanding, but also their degree of certainty in their knowledge and what yet-to-come information is missing.

Bad process journalism omits the metadata. It just reports your current thinking (“Mandate struck down”), depriving the reader of your uncertainty (“it appears”) and unknowns (“we haven’t read the whole ruling”).

Fox’s Michael Clemente didn’t use the term “process journalism” in his unapologetic apology for the network’s mistake, but he may as well have:

We gave our viewers the news as it happened. When Justice Roberts said, and we read, that the mandate was not valid under the Commerce clause, we reported it. Bill Hemmer even added, be patient as we work through this. Then when we heard and read, that the mandate could be upheld under the government’s power to tax, we reported that as well—all within two minutes. … Fox reported the facts, as they came in.

When is process journalism appropriate?

Clemente defined “news” generously; the real news was the justices’ opinion, not Shannon Bream’s reading of it. But that’s exactly what process journalism is: a diary of the reporting itself.

“Process journalism.” Jarvis wrote to me on Thursday, “is about news itself as a process and journalism following that process, again, with due caveats. Process journalism is about covering a truly breaking story — a storm, a riot, a revolt, say — and recognizing that fact in how we cover it.”

Kelly McBride, Poynter’s ethics faculty, agreed that this approach is something you use in breaking news, not “appointment news” — even complicated appointment news like a Supreme Court decision.

“In this case, all the facts were knowable; it simply required a finite amount of time and a certain skill to discern the most important facts,” she told me via email.

But what counts as a “truly breaking story”? Last year, in a post exploring the concept of process journalism, Jarvis cited Brian Stelter’s use of Twitter and Instagram to chronicle his reporting on the aftermath of the tornado in Joplin, Mo. for The New York Times.

Stelter didn’t live-tweet the storm itself; he live-tweeted his discovery of the damage. He was not the first reporter on the scene. He tweeted observations, thoughts and emotions as he pieced things together, without discerning what was most important or what the story was. It was a stream of consciousness.

So is it breakthrough journalism to live-tweet observations from a disaster, but simply bad journalism to report a portion of a court opinion?

If the difference is in what counts as breaking news, or that CNN and Fox News were wrong, consider this: It wasn’t storm reporting that moved Jarvis to write about process journalism back in 2009, but a New York Times article about tech bloggers who were comfortable reporting rumors.

In that story, Damon Darlin described how bloggers had reported rumors that Apple was negotiating to buy Twitter, even though they had not confirmed the story, had conflicting information, and even doubted that it was worth reporting. “We would have passed on reporting this rumor at all, but other press is now picking it up,” wrote Michael Arrington on TechCrunch.

Here’s how Jarvis sized up the bloggers’ approach:

This is journalism as beta. I make a big point of that in “What Would Google Do?” – that every time Google releases a beta, it is saying that the product is incomplete and imperfect. …

Newspaper people see their articles as finished products of their work. Bloggers see their posts as part of the process of learning.

What does the audience expect?

There is one important difference between what I see as process journalism (all of these examples) and what Jarvis does (everything but the Supreme Court reporting). That difference is audience expectations.

People following Stelter’s tweets knew they were observing a reporter at work. Arrington’s readers knew TechCrunch traffics in incomplete and unconfirmed information.

People watching CNN and Fox News on Thursday, however, probably were expecting an authoritative, definitive account. They weren’t expecting process journalism. I bet President Barack Obama didn’t know it when he saw the incorrect graphics on CNN and Fox News.

White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler, however, relied on SCOTUSblog. As CNN and Fox News were puzzling it out on the air, the people at SCOTUSblog were live-blogging: reporting in public, what they knew, as they learned it.

10:07 Amy Howe: We have health care opinion.
10:08 Amy Howe: Parsing it asap.
10:08 Amy Howe: The individual mandate survives as a tax.
10:09 Amy Howe: It’s very complicated, so we’re still figuring it out.
10:10 Kali: We are still here. Don’t worry.
10:10 Tom: So the mandate is constitutional. Chief Justice Roberts joins the left of the Court.

Now that, we can all agree, is process journalism.

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  • http://twitter.com/NEWSGAL100 Bridget Grogan

    Lisa makes a great point.  Can’t believe the audience will forgive CNN for blaming that mistake on the “kind” of journalism being practiced.  There are two kinds…good and bad.  That was clearly bad.  They got it wrong…wrong.  It wasn’t an “observation” they were reporting.  It was a “fact” (so to speak).  Can we please get over ourselves and stop pretending that the mistakes are someone else’s fault?  I have a lot of students to teach every semester.  This is a lousy example of how it should be done…and it came from folks my students think are among the best in the business.

  • Anonymous

    Coming to this discussion three days late, but my two cents are contained in this giant monograph I wrote called “Journalism as Process”: The Labor Implications of Participatory Content in News Organizations” available here: http://mediatrope.wordpress.com/research/.

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  • Anonymous

    Glad to see Jeff Jarvis being called on the carpet. Maybe Jay Rosen is next?

  • http://www.spot.us digidave

    @poynter:disqus 
    Steve: You ask

    “Now that we can all publish immediately, is there some value in creating some mental space so that we can figure out what we’re observing before we distribute? In what situations do we want more of a buffer and which ones we want a smaller one? (What do we want for a 9/11-level story?) And do certain audiences, on certain platforms, expect more or less of a buffer?”

    I won’t try to answer those questions – but I think THOSE are THE questions to ask in terms of process journalism. It always has been and will be a process and new technology forces these questions (and others) you’ve posed above. 

    There might not even be a “right” answer to any of them so much as a give/take we all have to assess in every situation. Live TV, again, proposing a unique and difficult problem. 

    Rock on! 

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    @digidave:disqus you’ve described process journalism really well, and I appreciate that. 
    I’m thinking over whether I agree that live TV is both process and product. I’ve thought that Andy Carvin’s reporting on the Arab Spring comes closest to being both process and product because it’s all done in public: the filtering, reporting and distributing. 

    As for live TV being both: On the one hand these reporters got their information from colleagues (on the phone) and then went live and relayed what they were told, along with their conclusions. That’s a pretty traditional reporting process, compressed into seconds. But to your point, as far as they were still processing this information while they relayed it, then it is both. And the anchors have in-ear communication with their producers, so they’re getting information as they’re talking. There is pretty much no buffer there.

    So does Carvin have more of a buffer than live TV? He can hit RT and publish instantaneously, but he’s not compelled to do so. With live TV, they’re compelled to fill the air.The questions bouncing around in my head: Now that we can all publish immediately, is there some value in creating some mental space so that we can figure out what we’re observing before we distribute? In what situations do we want more of a buffer and which ones we want a smaller one? (What do we want for a 9/11-level story?) And do certain audiences, on certain platforms, expect more or less of a buffer?

    Steve Myers

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    @digidave:disqus you’ve described process journalism really well, and I appreciate that. 
    I’m thinking over whether I agree that live TV is both process and product. I’ve thought that Andy Carvin’s reporting on the Arab Spring comes closest to being both process and product because it’s all done in public: the filtering, reporting and distributing. 

    As for live TV being both: On the one hand these reporters got their information from colleagues (on the phone) and then went live and relayed what they were told, along with their conclusions. That’s a pretty traditional reporting process, compressed into seconds. But to your point, as far as they were still processing this information while they relayed it, then it is both. And the anchors have in-ear communication with their producers, so they’re getting information as they’re talking. There is pretty much no buffer there.

    So does Carvin have more of a buffer than live TV? He can hit RT and publish instantaneously, but he’s not compelled to do so. With live TV, they’re compelled to fill the air.The questions bouncing around in my head: Now that we can all publish immediately, is there some value in creating some mental space so that we can figure out what we’re observing before we distribute? In what situations do we want more of a buffer and which ones we want a smaller one? (What do we want for a 9/11-level story?) And do certain audiences, on certain platforms, expect more or less of a buffer?

    Steve Myers

  • Clayton Burns

    “Mandate unconstitutional but fine as a tax.” (Terry Heaton)                     

    The opinion read by the C.J. could not be clearer. He signalled that he would turn to the merits, then he said specifically that we may “proceed to the merits.”

    On page 15:
    –The Government advances two theories for the proposition that Congress had constitutional authority to enact the individual mandate. First, the Government argues that Congress had the power to enact themandate under the Commerce Clause. Under that theory, Congress may order individuals to buy health insurance because the failure to do so affects interstate commerce, and could undercut the Affordable Care Act’s other reforms. Second, the Government argues that if the commerce power does not support the mandate, we should nonetheless uphold it as an exercise of Congress’s power to tax. According to theGovernment, even if Congress lacks the power to direct individuals to buy insurance, the only effect of the individual mandate is to raise taxes on those who do not do so, and thus the law may be upheld as atax.–

    At page 27: The individual mandate forces individuals into commerce precisely because they elected to refrain from commercial activity. Such a law cannot be sustained under a clause authorizing Congress to “regulate Commerce.”

    It is set out in the Syllabus, anyway, with cross-references to the opinion.

    How could anyone say: “Mandate unconstitutional but fine as a tax.” We have to read the text. That is foundational.

  • http://twitter.com/danoshinsky Dan Oshinsky

    My viewpoint on this is shaped by the year I spent working in TV news. We had a simple way of reporting on a breaking news story. Let’s say there was a fire on the west side of town. An anchor would lead off the 6pm news with, “Breaking news: We’ve confirmed that there’s a fire on the west side. We’ll bring you more on this story as it develops.” From the top, we would establish:

    1. The most basic facts of the story: What/where this piece of news was happening.
    2. And the disclaimer that the story was still in the process of being reported.

    Our audience seemed to appreciate that we were working on the story and that we were bringing them all that we could at that moment. And then we’d continue to report the story throughout the evening, both online and on our news broadcasts.

    But the most important thing is that we wouldn’t go on air with that first piece on news until we had it confirmed. My station had traffic/weather cameras all around town, and these cameras would sometimes pick up fires or smoke. But we wouldn’t go on air and say, “Based on one of our local traffic cameras, it appears that there’s some sort of smoke — and possibly a fire — on the west side.” To do so without first confirming the most basic details of the story would be irresponsible.

    But that’s what CNN did, and where they went so wrong.

    As for when “process journalism” should be employed: I think we need to make a distinction among types of breaking news. There’s a subcategory of “developing stories” with which process journalism works really well. Brian Stelter was reporting on the aftermath of a tornado, where in the initial 24 hours after the storm there was so much still unknown and unconfirmed. I think that certainly qualifies as one such instance of a developing story.

    I think this technique probably could be applied to most stories, but it seems to work best for stories that are still developing.

    If you look at what SBNation has done with their “story streams,” I think that’s a fine example of process journalism in non-hard news situations. And it works really well for live events where the story can be told as the game is happening.

    I think you made an excellent point in your post about SCOTUSblog’s coverage. (Actually, your entire section about expectations was spot on.) They told the story right. They got the facts straight, they let the audience know they were still breaking down the document, and then they provided additional analysis and insight to their audience. Kudos to them. They’re a model for exactly how this type of news event can/should be reported.

    To get to a point here: I don’t think we need to attach labels to reporting like that. To me, that seems like the type of decent reporting we should expect from all news outlets on any type of story.

    (With the iPad thing, I should’ve clarified: I was talking more about the tech reporting that typically leads up to the announcement, not the announcement itself. Although to be perfectly clear, I have absolutely no expertise in the field of tech reporting, and as such, I’m entirely unqualified to really comment on how they do reporting.)

  • http://www.thepomoblog.com Terry Heaton

    I think the word “failed” is a little strong here, Steve. In the rules and canons that govern finished product news, any error is a “fail,” although some are more egregious than others. What failed here for CNN and Fox is that reporters who read the ruling front-to-back and reported it that way in real time. In such a scenario, somebody was going to get it wrong, because the truth was revealed later in the ruling. Mandate unconstitutional but fine as a tax. So imagine you’re an editor in a newsroom with a reporter on the phone pumping information to the home base as a part of covering the story. The editor needs info fast, because she wants to farm out sidebars or reaction pieces to other reporters. The same mistake would have been made, causing consternation within the newsroom but not to its audience. As I said, news-as-a-process is the news-gathering process made public, so it’s more prone to these kinds of things and places real-time burdens on those covering the stories. What’s paramount is that it be corrected as soon as possible, which the audience both understands and accepts.

    I think a lot of times we get hung up with each other and the weird kind of peer review process that takes place in the trade instead of looking at what’s actually happening. Anybody who thinks that traditional norms are the right way had better be looking at what’s happened with media trust since 1976. We assume the public trust, but it’s just not there, and it hasn’t been for a long time. 

    To me — and in context — this was a forgivable sin. Those who practice news-as-a-process have additional burdens in terms of transparency that the old guard simply doesn’t face, because absolute vetting (or as close as we can get to it) is a unique part of the process of preparing “the first draft of history.” I just don’t think you can just universally apply the old rules to that which is new and create comparisons to stir the dung heap. What we need are new rules, and Poynter could really serve the trade of journalism by taking a leadership position here.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    @xnuzboss:disqus So if those 3 values — speed, authenticity and transparency — are the values of process journalism, then CNN and Fox failed because they only focused on speed and the other two. I take it that you don’t think the various ways they hedged was enough transparency.

    Thanks,
    Steve Myes

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    @facebook-679762641:disqus Thanks for your comment. The one thing I’d like to draw attention to is your point about the CNN and Fox News’ on-screen headlines. You’re right that the Chyrons did not convey any sense of uncertainty. Considering that some people (like the president, apparently) watch CNN with the sound off, they need to make sure they’re consistent in how they convey what they don’t know.

    Steve Myers

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Thanks for bringing this here where we can discuss in more detail (and with more permanence,   @DanOShinsky:twitter. Your point, along with @JayRosen_NYU:twitter’s, is that this isn’t the sort of story on which you take a process journalism approach. (You may believe that this wasn’t process journalism; I’m not sure.) 
    But in reading about process journalism, until now I haven’t seen people discuss when this approach *shouldn’t* be employed. In fact, inspiration for @JeffJarvis:twitter ’s original post was bloggers who have a different value system than newspaper reporters, which is why they published unconfirmed information. These bloggers weren’t reporting on developing news like fires; they were reporting on things that may or may not be true right then, before they hit “publish,” like Apple buying Twitter. 
    If people seem to think that journalists should use this only in a so-called “breaking news” situation, what counts as breaking news? By the time Stelter got to Joplin, the tornado was gone. He was tweeting his experience of reporting. An iPad announcement is another form of appointment news. The only thing that is developing is Apple’s theatrical announcement, not any characteristic of the iPad. So how is an Apple press conference a developing story but this the Supreme Court decision isn’t?
    The concept of process journalism is that people can observe and take part in the activity of journalism, rather than waiting for a finished product. So with tech bloggers, they are actively trying to figure out what’s going on, and they’re publishing what they get as they get it. That’s what CNN did. They were reading and figuring it out as they went along, and there were plenty of signals to indicate that.
    Maybe we should figure out what kinds of situations are truly appropriate for this type of journalism, and what we gain and lose with this approach compared to one in which the reporter has a much greater degree of certainty before telling readers/viewers anything.Your Q4 is important. We need to think about what viewers expect and how we can convey to them what we’re doing. The audience may have responded well to what you suggest.Thanks for giving this some thought.Steve Myers

  • http://www.dannyweiss.net/ Danny Weiss

    I will leave the issue of “process journalism” for discussion by journalism students and professionals, where I think it belongs.  However, from the perspective of a news consumer I believe the errors by CNN and Fox were simply incompetence stemming from the desire to say something, perhaps anything, first at any expense, regardless of the actual facts.  Unfortunately, the performance we saw seems all too typical of today’s network news readers; and, probably too many of today’s news reporters, too.

    As revealed by each network’s own cameras, the reporters involved were attempting to draw complete conclusions from a clearly incomplete knowledge of the facts.  The film of each incident appears to show reporters holding in their hands a nearly 200 page opinion and trying to report conclusions based on reading no further than the first page or two.  How could they possibly get the story right with such a technique?

    Presumably the networks sent people to the Court who had some experience in reporting on legal decisions, or at least one would hope so!  Yet, anyone who has ever read so much as a single Court opinion knows that you cannot summarize the entire decision by reading the first two pages.  If anything, educated readers know the full story is usually deeper in the document than that, although even a reader that is unfamiliar with the structure of legal opinions should realize that they cannot get the full story on a 200 page document in the first few pages.

    Again, what this incident says about the technical issues of journalism is beyond my expertise.  But, I do believe it says a lot about the general caliber of the organizations and people from which the public usually gets its news delivered in today’s world, and I do not think the message is very encouraging in that regard.

    -Danny W.

  • Anonymous

    There’s a way to read SCOTUS opinions. I was not on the chambers, but assume Roberts was reading com the six-page summary on top of the long full opinion, which included a series of numbered grace that, in order explained the steps that led to the two main conclusions . Took me about three minutes to read thru. But if you’re not familiar with that writing process and report the first conclusion, you end up with the Cnn error. As an environment/science reporter, I teach newbies how to read science papers the way scientists do, first grad summary, last grad conclusion, then back to nuts and bolts. In the olden days, didn’t the court lock the reporters in till they read the summation before they let them out to hit the phones? Seems like a smarter way to handle.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=679762641 Jonathan Austin

    My concern is that we are addressing round pegs regarding a
    square hole issue. What seems obvious is that the people at CNN and Fox are not
    thinking about these issues beforehand; not caring to invest enough brain power
    to prepare.  It isn’t ‘process journalism’
    or even processed sandwich meat; what it is, is ‘entertainment.’

    Behind the scenes at these organizations, as much thought is
    being put into choosing the music that will accompany the headlines as the
    story develops throughout the day. The anchors were using “if” and “it appears,”
    but those words don’t look good on bold graphics, so…

    Every anchor wants to be ‘the one’ to make the announcement
    in the mold of Cronkite: “From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official …”

    What we don’t choose to recall is that Cronkite was
    reporting the death of the president 11 minutes AFTER saying that Dan Rather
    had confirmed that the president was dead, and three minutes after NBC reported
    the White House saying the president was dead! So obviously, history doesn’t
    always dwell on who said it first. What history did dwell on is the drama of
    Cronkite’s announcement. He removed his glasses to look at the clock on the
    wall. He paused. He seemed to be focused on controlling his emotions.

    Are anchors still worried about looking and sounding as wise
    as Walter? (Don’t worry. You won’t and you can’t.)

    We shouldn’t be surprised about this massive ‘failure to
    think’ moment, because we’ve seen it too many times before. Remember when
    television forgot that Florida actually stretches across two time zones, so
    they called the state for Al Gore before the panhandle – a heavily Republican
    part of the state – finished voting? Oops.

    Remember when CNN reported (for quite a while in the world
    of live television) that the Supreme Court had sided with Al Gore in Bush v
    Gore? Oops.

    The best way to parse this is to remember one true fact:
    they consider it entertainment; they just call it news.
     

  • http://www.spot.us digidave

    Steve 

    I do think you’ve come across a pretty solid intellectual conundrum. 

    My .02 for what it’s worth.

    I come from the intellectual vein of Jeff Jarvis / Jay Rosen, etc re: journalism is a process. Hell, it’s the tagline to my blog. But there is a second half…. “Journalism is a process, not a product” – that’s what I always say. I am not sure if that’s always the distinction Jeff meant to make – but to me it’s important.

    It’s not that process journalism is juxtaposed with “finished” journalism or “over-processed” or “under-processed” journalism. I’m saying at an ontological level (to use a big word from my philosophy undergrad days) journalism IS a process. Journalism is a process as juxtaposed with journalism as a product. 

    The newspaper that is slapped down on your doorstep, for example, that’s a product. So really – all I’m saying is: The newspaper is not journalism. The actual JOURNALISM is a process. Journalism is an activity. It’s a series of things we do (collect, filter and distribute information). Once we’ve done journalism we typically package it into a product. 

    This becomes a bit of a snake eating itself with live broadcast television because the product and the process are the same. I can’t think of a way to separate them out. Which means for LIVE broadcast TV – (or Ustream and any streaming really) “journalism is a process and a product.” 

    Now – something obviously went wrong with CNN and FOX’s coverage. 

    But it’s impossible (in my mind) to know if the problem was because of the product (live TV product wants drama/scoops/etc) or the process (journalism was stream of conscious and we were watching that happen live). Live TV is unique in some respects. It is a unique product. And certainly when covering something live the process is exposed IN the product. 

    To me the statement “journalism as process” doesn’t refer to “report what you know when you know it” it refers to the act/process of collecting/filtering and distributing information. Now that process can be ugly – but usually that last step (distributing information) is what overlaps with a product. In the case of traditional newspapers – there is much bureaucracy in that last step. In the case of live tv, however, the overlap is 100%. Again – it’s difficult to “blame” it on either the process or the product because they are one in the same for certain types of coverage.

    You bring up Brian Stelter’s coverage of Joplin (or other health coverage on the same day via NYT or AP, etc) and they still had a slight buffer in between process and product. Even if that buffer was just the time it takes for Brian to type in his tweets – that buffer separates the process and product much more than in live TV coverage. If Brian were to have been on the scene and tweeted something blatantly wrong – I think he’d be much more culpable than if he had done it on TV (or if he laughed on live TV ala Anderson Cooper). In live TV it’s hard to tell if we were watching his finished product or his process. Indeed, as I’ve said earlier, they’d be one in the same.

    All this is to say. I don’t think we can blame Jarvis or “process journalism.” Again – I don’t even think of “process journalism” as a prescription. It’s a DESCRIPTION. Journalism is a process. End of story.

    The question is – at what point do we want a buffer between the process and the product. Live coverage seems to have no buffer at all. Traditional newspapers have a buffer of 24 hours. 

    Everything else seems to be in-between.

    Just my .02

  • Anonymous

    “Process journalism” is the new lying.

  • http://profiles.google.com/wenalway Robert Knilands

    But there are some things that are black and white, such as yesterday’s ruling in regard to the individual mandate.

  • http://profiles.google.com/wenalway Robert Knilands

    Sorry, but when the information is “the individual mandate was upheld” or “the individual mandate was struck down,” then it is black and white, right or wrong.

    You know, it’s possible to have some things that way and some things in the gray area. If you want to preach flexible thinking, you should start with that. The “one way or the other” issues set the boundaries for you, and then you can be flexible from there.

  • http://profiles.google.com/wenalway Robert Knilands

    The public demands erroneous information quickly? I have to disagree.

  • http://www.thepomoblog.com Terry Heaton

    Steve, the news is the news. What I call “news as a process” is different from “finished product news” only in the way it’s presented. It’s the news gathering process made public, to the extent that we’re comfortable in so doing. I think the assumption here is that you’ll have mistakes, because the values of finished product news are different than news as a process. Speed, authenticity and transparency are the values of news as a process, and I think if we practice these, we’re fine. Speed in no way means recklessness, and I think maybe that’s where some people get confused. Finished product news is different, because, well, it’s “finished.” But even at that, mistakes are made. Finally, one of the real enemies of flexible thinking is the notion is it’s all one way or the other. Such a black and white perspective is a bar to progress, and I’m always amazed at how many people think this way when it comes to journalism. I’m not suggesting that’s you, but it’s very often all we hear from the institutions of the status quo.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Thank you. 

    It’s funny that you think I’m writing from the POV of a big-J purist, because I sure got a lot of criticism from traditionalists when I described why the man who tweeted the bin Laden raid was a citizen journalist:
    http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/making-sense-of-news/131135/why-the-man-who-tweeted-bin-laden-raid-is-a-citizen-journalist/I'm interested in process journalism. I just want to know why some things are process journalism and other things aren’t when they have the same characteristics. Steve Myers

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roy-Peter-Clark/100000896693218 Roy Peter Clark

    Steve, I think you are onto something important — even crucial — to the practice and experience of journalism.  Time is of the essence.  Timeliness persists as a news value.  But so does accuracy.  History is filled with examples where they come in conflict.  As a general philosophy, I preach that “Time is the co-author of good judgment.”  That said, historians who spend years on a subject still manage to get things wrong.  As the news cycle shrinks to nano-seconds, a degree of self-restraint is more important than ever.  The process of understanding will always be slower than computer time. That means that process journalism may require the strategic use of “time-outs.”  So let’s not blame Jeff Jarvis.  Let’s just send him to his room for a time-out. 

  • http://twitter.com/FlaFan FlaFan

    I think the only thing to blame was something that’s been to blame throughout journalism history: Get it first.

  • Anonymous

    Steve, I appreciate your detailed explanation, but it is artificial.

    The SC opinion here is not a long document.

    Could it be searched electronically? Not that that was necessary in this case.

    What journalism school is already planning to deal penetratingly with this issue in the fall of 2012?

    I have mentioned an admissions curriculum and case studies.

    CNN may have had an under-analyzed priming problem. That is a matter of psychology. Toobin was so certain that the case was going one way that he may have infected others.

    There may be an IT factor. Can we rapidly scan these documents into formats that can be searched rapidly?

    There is brute information incoherence. How can you separate your senior legal analyst from your producer and reporter?

    Students need to be primed by good exercises.

    Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine,” Chapter 3, ”The Unconcealing,” on working memory, is an excellent example. Journalism students should focus on the chapter, conduct interviews, and try to figure out if Lehrer’s acccount is “creative.” I do not think so.

    Lack of realism in journalism schools and in continuing education for producers and reporters will mean a mess will happen downstream. You can’t stop it by talking about ‘process journalism.’

  • Anonymous

    Steve, I appreciate your detailed explanation, but it is artificial.

    The SC opinion here is not a long document.

    Could it be searched electronically? Not that that was necessary in this case.

    What journalism school is already planning to deal penetratingly with this issue in the fall of 2012?

    I have mentioned an admissions curriculum and case studies.

    CNN may have had an under-analyzed priming problem. That is a matter of psychology. Toobin was so certain that the case was going one way that he may have infected others.

    There may be an IT factor. Can we rapidly scan these documents into formats that can be searched rapidly?

    There is brute information incoherence. How can you separate your senior legal analyst from your producer and reporter?

    Students need to be primed by good exercises.

    Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine,” Chapter 3, ”The Unconcealing,” on working memory, is an excellent example. Journalism students should focus on the chapter, conduct interviews, and try to figure out if Lehrer’s acccount is “creative.” I do not think so.

    Lack of realism in journalism schools and in continuing education for producers and reporters will mean a mess will happen downstream. You can’t stop it by talking about ‘process journalism.’

  • kenneth freed

    Clayton:  I know because I studied Supreme Court decisions in law school and because I was a reporter and editor who dealt with Supreme Court rulings.  You are right about the syllabus.  The CNN-Fox reporting was the result of poor journalistic practices.  The AP, Reuters and Lyle Dennison all performed the way professionals are supposed to perform.

  • kenneth freed

    Clayton:  I know because I studied Supreme Court decisions in law school and because I was a reporter and editor who dealt with Supreme Court rulings.  You are right about the syllabus.  The CNN-Fox reporting was the result of poor journalistic practices.  The AP, Reuters and Lyle Dennison all performed the way professionals are supposed to perform.

  • http://twitter.com/danoshinsky Dan Oshinsky

    Okay, to bring a conversation Steve and I had on Twitter into the comments thread…

    Process stories are typically tied to stories that are still **in progress**. That type of reporting — here’s what we know so far, and we’ll bring you more information as this story develops — requires a story to be moving. It works for fires. It works for the product launch of a new iPad.

    But here, every single news organization was handed the same print-out of the Supreme Court’s decision. There were no unknowns here. There were no moving parts.

    This was not a developing story.

    The audience knew this. They knew an answer had been handed down, and they wanted to know one thing: Had the law been overturned? There is no wiggle room on a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question like that.

    There was only a Supreme Court verdict, written in legalese. Some organizations read it through before explaining it to readers.

    CNN tried to read **and** report simultaneously, and they lost the trust of many viewers in the process.

    Bottom line: Yesterday, CNN’s priority was to be first. Their priority should’ve been to get the story right.

    CNN misinformed the public. They were sloppy. They failed to serve their audience. 

    What I want to know now is:

    1. Who did CNN have inside the courtroom, and what kind of experience did that reporter/producer have?

    2. Why, after months of discussion on this decision, did CNN choose to rush this piece of news?

    3. Why did it take so long for CNN to correct the initial misreporting?

    4. And from the general public, I’d be curious to know: If CNN had said, “We’re reading through this, please be patient?” would it have bothered you? Or would the transparency have actually led to increased trust between viewer and CNN?

  • Anonymous

    kenneth, How do you know that the reporters were working from the Syllabus, if so?
     
    If they were, then all they had to do was split up the short Syllabus, let their eyes linger at the top of page 4, and find the answer.
     
    I found the Syllabus to be well-written, and clearly cross-referenced.
     
    I found the signals in the opinion to be exact, as when the C.J. indicated he was proceeding to the merits, and explicitly set out tax as a consideration.
     
    You really have to work hard to misread it when it is put right in front of you like that.
     
    What were the search practices for reporters?

  • kenneth freed

    This is all very interesting, silly but interesting.  The fact is that neither of the CNN and Fox reporters bothered to finish reading the decision before blathering.  Actually, they weren’t reading the decision itself, they were working with a brief set of headnote-like summaries by court clerks usually only a few pages long.  The reporting wasn’t in process, it was just lazy and wrong, and the editing was worse.

  • http://www.thepomoblog.com Terry Heaton

    If it’s from Poynter, it’s defending the big-J.

    Here are two things I wrote about the subject (2005 & 2007)

    The Unbundled Newsroom
    News is a Process, Not a Finished Product

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    @xnuzboss:disqus I see now in a Jarvis post on networked journalism a reference to something you wrote. But I can’t find it online. Can you point me to it?

    I do want to clarify one thing: I’m not trying to say big J-journalism is better; I’m asking why this isn’t process journalism. Being right is not the defining characteristic of process journalism.

    Steve Myers

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    You should embrace “process brewing,” @lifeandcode:disqus if over time your coffeemaker figures out how to brew a good cup o’ joe.

    Steve Myers

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    You should embrace “process brewing,” @lifeandcode:disqus if over time your coffeemaker figures out how to brew a good cup o’ joe.

    Steve Myers

  • http://lifeandcode.tumblr.com Lisa Williams

    Let’s see…

    Some reporters
    On CNN
    Who have probably never heard of “process journalism” 
    And who probably (apologies, Jeff) don’t know who Jeff Jarvis is
    Screw up on Twitter

    OMG IT’S JEFF JARVIS’ FAULT!

    Using that logic, I blame Jeff Jarvis for my coffeemaker’s failure to produce drinkable coffee this morning. 

    It was clearly PROCESS BREWING.  Blame Jeff. 

  • http://www.thepomoblog.com Terry Heaton

    Steve, I seriously doubt anybody with half a brain would argue with the point that “finished product” news has more checks and balances built into its processes than does “news as a process” news. This is no bulletin. The scoop has always come with risk (think Truman/Dewey), but that’s a different matter than what you’re addressing here, so I’m not really sure what you’re arguing. News as a process — which I first wrote about in 2005 — is a new animal made possible by the always-connected web. It’s not an all-or-nothing thing, which is often the view of the Big-J purists in an attempt to justify the belief that traditional journalism is “better” than anything else. The point is it doesn’t matter; the public is demanding this, not observers like Jeff Jarvis.Bitch at them.

  • Tracie Powell

    I actually agree with Jeff Jarvis. A law student would have known how to read the documents, quickly, and would have arrived at the correct conclusion. I’m not sure who did the reading of documents for Fox and CNN, but it would appear as if those persons have absolutely no foundation in basic legal analysis. And did these same people not hear the oral the arguments? If they had, these persons would have known that legal question regarding the power to tax would be an issue addressed in the opinions.

  • Anonymous