Looking into the history of journalism we can see as early as 3500 B.C. that velocity was important to news as the Chinese domestication of the horse was used to increase the speed of news. Today with the rise of the Internet and other instant communication technologies, velocity has increased dramatically for both better and worse.
During times of war, velocity is incredibly important as it ensures the people learn of important events as quickly as possible. Today we learn about daily updates in the battle against ISIS in Syria almost as soon as events unfold, even from halfway around the world. This was not always the case.
As we can see in 1775 at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, news of shots being fired at Lexington and Concord on April 19 does not appear in newspapers in South Carolina until May 31. The increases velocity today is a distinct advantage in comparison to times like these in our history.
Another advantage velocity gives both news producers and consumers is that it increases the edge to which journalism can reach. Whereas horses can only run so far, the Internet can reach anywhere it is accessible. So while it may take a print edition of the New York Times weeks to reach far away locations, if that location has Internet access they could view the same content in seconds.
Another benefit velocity has given journalists is new technologies to use in areas where news is hard to find. Journalists embedded in war-zones or other hazardous situations like Kevin Sites are able to use smartphones and video editing technology to record, produce, and publish content all on a computer.
Though these benefits have made journalism more accessible to many people around the world, the increase of velocity has also had some negative effects. Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges that has arisen from this issue is balancing velocity with accuracy.
With an increasing demand for instantaneous news and updates, competition in the news industry has made being the first outlet to break a story an important part of the process. Editors are now being asked both to ensure content is mistake free and to publish as soon as possible, a difficult balance to keep.
Examples like coverage after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 and the controversy over 60 Minutes Benghazi coverage show what can happen when timeliness is prioritized ahead of accuracy. The New York Post was sued for defamation by one of the men who was in the cover picture they used after the bombings, while 60 Minutes was forced to apologize for a source deliberately lied about his experience in Benghazi.
The struggle between accuracy and velocity is still ongoing, and something that Columbia Journalism Review addressed back in 2008:
“This magazine has long argued that doing journalism well is a difficult job, and that it usually requires more, not less, time between the birth of a story idea and its publication. Speed and quantity are integral to the Internet’s competitive advantage, but they aren’t the sum of it. And it isn’t at all clear to us that it is always better to simply be in the conversation, for better or worse, than to wait until you have something worth saying.”
Now that velocity has reached near instantaneous levels, there is no going back to the days when the speed of a horse determined when news was heard. With this new ability comes a responsibility as well to ensure that if a journalist is to say something for the sake of velocity, they should ensure that is something worth saying.