“The first and the last word on a story”? Clarifying the 21st century newsroom

It seems that Telegraph Digital Editor Ed Roussel is putting some of the principles of the 21st century newsroom into practice. Andy Dickinson, reporting on Rousel speaking at the Digital News Affairs conference, writes:

“In an interesting overview he outlined what may be a typical approach to a breaking news story:

  • 11:15 Alerts sms email desktop
  • 11:25 150 words, solicit reader help
  • 12:15 Updated story, images video
  • 13:15 Analysis, topic page
  • 15:15 Multiple angles – multimedia analysis etc.

“Shades of Paul B’s newsroom model in practice here.”


“In dismissing the idea (perhaps a myth) that the web was simply about breaking news and the paper about analysis, he said that the strategy  for your website was to be about the first and the last word on a story.”

It’s a cute little motto, and at first I thought it was another way of phrasing the point about the web being great for both speed (that’ll be the first word) and depth.

But then I began to think a bit more about it.

Should a news website ever seek to be the “last word” on a story?

Is a story ever finished online?

Are you not risking repeating the mistake of old media of making a definitive statement, of telling the public ‘how it is’?

If we’ve moved from a lecture to a conversation, does this make your news organisation the type of conversationalist who always wants to win the argument?

I’m hoping Roussel was more interested in the tidiness of the aphorism than its linguistic properties. But clarity is important. We should not seek to be the first, last or penultimate word, but the place where the best conversation is held – whether we’re doing the talking or not.

8 thoughts on ““The first and the last word on a story”? Clarifying the 21st century newsroom

  1. Andy

    I think it was the cutness of the saying rather than the language – but wouldnt want to put words in his mouth

    I think in the context of when do you, as the journalist has to, shift your focus on to developing the next story – publication deadlines and all that – the last word has a certain necessity about it. Doesnt mean the story is dead but perhas the last editorial word.

    In that respect you could see the last word as less final and more dynamic – “the last word on this subject someone had to say was yesterday at 12:00” kind of thing.

  2. andy

    I agree. It’s always worth stressing this stuff otherwise it’s bound to be interpreted by some as an invitation to do the kind of shovel ware for community engagement thing. Of course we are engaging with our users – we put all our stuff on the web!

  3. Alfred Hermida

    It is interesting to see this model adopted by newspapers. This is exactly how we would handle breaking news when I was a news editor at the BBC News website. This was always the approach from when the site was launched in 1997 and it was honed down to a seamless operation by the time of the Paddington rail crash in 2001.

  4. Nick Booth

    It’s good to see your thinking is bearing fruit.

    That’s seems to me to be a marketing line aimed at those who still believe that information in a completable “thing” if only you get the right professionals working on it.

    It must be to persuade people to use their site as a first port rather than the BBC or Google. The idea of genuinely being “first” is oddly new for a newspaper – who surrendered that piece of ground to broadcaster a while back.

    I like Andy’s more positive approach to the necessity of news moving the professional writers onto what’s new. Of course the best way to handle this is to encourage the readers to keep updating and adding. As you’ve recomended all along

  5. Pingback: Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Thursday squibs

  6. Pingback: gatewatching » Blog Archive » From “the First and Last Word” to News as Conversation

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