Posted by: structureofnews | August 11, 2012

See It Now (Or Later)

So it is surprising that NBC has racked up massive viewership for its tape-delayed broadcasts of Olympic events, even after everyone could stream live coverage and results were tweeted all around the world?

It depends.  It depends on what you were expecting, and that depends, in part, on what view you have of news and information.  Is news just about utilitarian information (who won?) or is it something more than that (how did they win? what was the atmosphere like? etc)?  It’s something in between those two extremes, of course, but how surprised you are tells you something about where you are on that spectrum.

Steve Myers at Poynter writes about the “cognitive dissonance” of wanting to know who won right away as well as wanting to watch the match – and that it’s not really getting in the way of actually sitting down in front of a TV set hours later.

…it turns out that people are watching the Games at night even when they know what happened.

Well, yes.  Just as people read books even when they know whodunit, and read sports coverage the day after the World Series.  Sometimes we turn to news just for information, and sometimes we’re looking for something else – great storytelling, a shared experience, strong curation, etc.  As journalists, we tend to focus on the news value of the information/story we’ve created; but that isn’t necessarily the only thing – or even the main thing – readers get out of our work.

A caveat: I didn’t watch any Olympics coverage, except what I might have glimpsed in a bar here and there.  I hear the NBC coverage wasn’t great, but I wouldn’t know from first-hand experience if it was or wasn’t.  But this isn’t about whether the play-by-play was fantastic or abysmal; it’s about what we think people come to us for.  And another caveat:  Sports is a particular subset of news, and some might argue Olympics coverage is an entirely different genre altogether; fair enough.  But I think the broader point still applies.

Which is: If we focus too narrowly on what we care about, and what we produce – news, or information – we lose sight of some of the other missions we fulfil for readers/users/customers.

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