Looking forward to the future of journalism

Beware the evil media Hamster Wheel

the media Hamster WheelToday’s must read is a bleak but compelling piece in Columbia Journalism Review by Dean Starkman, who examines how downsized news organizations are churning out mindless, quick-hit stories with little regard for depth and public service journalism. He gives the phenomenon a name: the Hamster Wheel:

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 …

Journalists will tell you that where once newsroom incentives rewarded more deeply reported stories, now incentives skew toward work that can be turned around quickly and generate a bump in Web traffic …

None of this is written down anywhere, but it’s real. The Hamster Wheel, then, is investigations you will never see, good work left undone, public service not performed.

To some degree, the Hamster Wheel has always plagued news organizations but it’s getting worse. Starkman quantifies the damage — more stories are being cranked out by fewer journalists at the Wall Street Journal, for example, and time-strapped reporters are relying more on public relations spin.

Related: Five news stories that show why open government is such a big deal

The scariest part about the Hamster Wheel? It is a structure of our own making — no one is forcing journalists to get on the wheel. But we suffer from a misguided notion that we have no choice.

(Photo credit: sualk61)