Lag time in national press
February 18, 2005 1:15 PM   Subscribe

In following the excellent, comprehensive research being done by MeFites ericb and amberglow in covering the Gannon scandal, I am curious what the average lag time is between the occurrence of any politically controversial event and the resulting coverage in so-called MSM outlets and newspapers? [mi]

Acknowledging that some media outlets have a more pronounced ideological bent than others, what criteria are used by the media (editorial staff) to decide if a story "has legs" or not? What criteria are better than others, in terms of getting a story out faster?
posted by AlexReynolds to Law & Government (8 answers total)
There was a tiny blurb in this week's Newsweek in an article that referenced Gannon as a "nutjob that bloggers were talking about" and mentioned dailykos (I think). Nothing about the nature of it or anything. The mainstream media knows about the scandal, but they're electing not to cover it.

I wish I could be less vague but I was running on the treadmill when I read it and I've since thrown it out. But the scandal's been mentioned, but with the actual tawdriness omitted. Anyway, it's already broken as far as its going to.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:48 PM on February 18, 2005

Self-link but possibly useful: if you want to take that story as your example in particular, we charted the days on which the Gannon story was covered on TV, organized by network, and compiled it all here. The results are actually quite surprising: CNN and MSNBC led on 2/9, CNN went nuts with it, Fox stepped in briefly, finally it hit the Today Show on 2/17. ABC and CBS abstained. (Which is most interesting to your question -- why did they?)

As for your question overall, I find it actually too complicated to answer myself. And your mileage will vary at media outlets, clearly.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 2:35 PM on February 18, 2005

The best answer I can give you is "it depends." Some stories require a lot more digging than others, while with others it's a question of coverage. The CBS memos story and the Gannon/Guckert story are examples of ones that required some fairly intensive research, while Trent Lott's comments at Strom Thurmond's birthday party were pretty much missed by everyone the first time around...but once you saw the videotape, you knew you had a bona fide story.

I first saw the Gannon story (at Kos and other blogs) on the second or third of February. On the evening of the third, I pitched it to the higher-ups at [the big mainstream news organization where I work]. (I didn't say that we should rush into it and run a story the next day, but I was pointing out some discrepancies and things which would bear investigation, talking with people who'd covered the White House, et cetera.) On the fourth, I saw a story in the Boston Globe, which was I believe the first mainstream press mention. Also on the fourth, there was a story in Editor & Publisher, which used the Globe's story as a jumping-off point.

The weekend and Monday were fairly quiet (people were probably doing more digging), and then the story started rumbling again the evening of Tuesday the eighth.

I think that as more and more people read and write blogs, you're going to have more bloggers working at news organizations...and I think that this lag is going to get shorter and shorter.
posted by Vidiot at 3:30 PM on February 18, 2005

The weekend and Monday were fairly quiet (people were probably doing more digging), and then the story started rumbling again the evening of Tuesday the eighth.

And it's now ten days later. When do we see it in a form that doesn't say "read between the lines"?
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:12 PM on February 18, 2005

Mayor Curley: I wish I knew. The most comprehensive coverage I've seen in the American media so far was on The Daily Show night before last. Some opinion pieces, as linked by ericb and amberglow, have been good at asking the appropriate questions.
posted by jokeefe at 5:56 PM on February 18, 2005

RJ, i think the sites are down.
posted by amberglow at 7:25 PM on February 18, 2005

what criteria are used by the media (editorial staff) to decide if a story "has legs" or not?

It's strictly news judgment. Is it new information? Is it the kind of thing that can be verified or confirmed? How explosive is it? Is it part of a pattern? Editorial staff and management judge these kinds of things all the time. It's mostly a gut-level call, but you typically don't get to top editorial management without being in the business for a long time.

In my news organization's case, the feeling from the top was that the Gannon/Guckert story was especially interesting in light of Armstrong Williams, Maggie Gallagher, et al.

And I think there's been some fairly comprehensive coverage. The Washington Post and the New York Times have been all over it. (Howard Kurtz has done at least three pieces in the WaPo, and at least two or three on CNN.) Frank Rich wrote a stinging column about it in the NYT, and it's gotten its share of straight news coverage from them as well. As you note, RJ Reynolds, CNN has been all over this -- Anderson Cooper interviewed Gannon/Guckert tonight. I've seen it on MSNBC's "Countdown", and the wire services have done stories on it.
posted by Vidiot at 7:46 PM on February 18, 2005

Maureen Dowd wrote a column about the scandal two days ago, and it was the NY Times's most e-mailed story on the day it was printed. Today, it's still ranked third.
posted by raysmj at 6:43 AM on February 19, 2005

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