See If I Can Practice What I Preach
Personally I’ve never cared for the word “succinct.” Maybe you’ve noticed. Well, of course you have.
But the terrifying events in Paris last weekend brought home something I’d been trying to clarify for myself for some time. It’s about how we handle issues of craft and industry in publishing. And it’s my provocation for you today.
What if we’re over-thinking, overwriting, overdoing just about everything we touch in publishing? Because we can.
What if we’re not doing it but instead are just doing stuff about it? What if the sparks are flying because we’re grinding, grinding it all into the ground?
As I watched my former colleagues at CNN International struggling to handle the #ParisAttacks coverage, I knew exactly what they were going through. On the ground, it’s often called “incremental coverage.” And it’s a gruelling, brain-blistering exercise—much harder than it looks and involving hundreds of people you never see. Everyone must try to get the latest, “the very latest!” bit of news. I do mean “bit.” As in scraps. You see one word or a short phrase from a French official churned over and over in fonts. That’s because that’s all there is. Nothing else new. Each death and injury number offered by an official source is chanted over and over. Everyone tries to avoid speculation, everyone fails. Everything carries Breaking News graphics, very little is truly breaking. In a major story, this exhausting bid for new, fast, and anything head-turning can go on not for hours but for days. Days.
Sustaining this is incredibly hard. You’re trying to hold an audience’s attention with small new elements of detail when there are 600 channels above you on the dial and 200 below you. And just about every one of those other channels has something less upsetting to offer than the unforgivable violence perpetrated on those innocent victims in Paris by such unholy assailants. Many network-news employees will define their careers by the high-relief of these stories. They’re the only times the 24-hour news services really blow through the roof on ratings, of course. A nightmare like the one we saw a week ago can wipe the goofy smile off any Candy Crusher’s face and draw even the silliest of society to our glowing screens of horror.
Rightly so. As Miller had it, “Attention must finally be paid” to such inexcusable violence. For all the missteps and vamping of this coverage, these are modern news coverage’s most powerful moments. And so overdone. By the time one of these cycles has been so agonizingly flogged—albeit for all the right reasons—viewers are numb. Our coverage of the Second Coming will make us all yawn before it’s over.