100 articles – ‘The Hamster Wheel’

4 May 2011

Written by: Lawrie Zion

‘The Hamster Wheel’ by Dean Starkman

I recently left a mid-sized daily where we were expected to shoot and edit video, photos,and write copy for every story, all on deadline. This is the same newspaper that had dedicated staff solely to post to the website every press release that we received. They called it the “continuous news desk.”

I imagine you can already guess what most of the stories looked like.

There’s fewer reporters, but more copy being produced than ever before. Riding on the information superhighway, there seems to be no time to do anything but skim the surface.

Young journalists are coming of age in new, uncharted territory where a model that fancies a quick turn over in-depth reporting is quickly emerging. The print and online products that newspapers are producing are beginning to look more like online content farms. But is it avoidable?

Dean Starkman, Pulitzer-prize winning editor of the business section of The Columbia Journalism Review, thinks it is.

We’re running on the hamster wheel, as Starkman called it:

‘The Hamster Wheel isn’t speed; it’s motion for motion’s sake. The Hamster Wheel is volume without thought. It is news panic, a lack of discipline, an inability to say no,’ he wrote.

Starkman believes that refocusing on the core values, especially investigations and reporting in the public interest will never lose value. And they can’t just be part of the model; They are the model.

His analysis of the problem was the cover story for the September/October 2010 edition of The Columbia Journalism Review.

As I read it, I could already see offending editors making excuses for how going back to the basics would just slow things down (I had heard them all before from our director of operations).

But really, the only thing that isn’t moving fast enough in the era of the Internet is the commitment to quality journalism from news organizations.

Carlton Purvis is an investigative and mulitmedia journalist from North Carolina. In 2009, he won the student journalist of the year award for Southeastern Journalism Conferece Best in the South Competition. Most recently, he spent a year in the dirty south as a multimedia journalist for a daily newspaper. He writes about anything journalism related on his blog, Read/Report. You can find him on twitter @CarltonPurvis.

  • Martin

    Exactly true. Well said, Mr. Purvis.