College Media / ideas

Reverse shovelware is no better than the original

shovelShovelware is a practice that developed early in the evolution of the Web, when news outlets would copy the content they were using in print or broadcast and paste it into pages for the Web, with no links, no updated information, no recognition of what makes online … online. It’s also one of the laziest, worst habits a journalist or a media outlet can get into. Shovelware deserves ridicule, and anyone who’s still doing it needs to break that habit.

The journalism industry has come a long way in terms of shovelware, although there’s still much work to be done.

But as journalists have become more adept at posting news online first, another bad habit has developed, which my colleague Lola Burnham, The Daily Eastern News adviser, called “reverse shovelware.” Reverse shovelware is the practice of taking a story originally posted on the web and pasting it into the printed page, with no changes.

In student media, this is most likely to happen during a breaking news event or after a sporting event.

To use the sports example, a writer works up a game report for a Friday game and – in good “digital first” fashion – posts the story to the Web immediately. For a daily (Monday-Friday) print publication, the game story is then slotted for the Monday edition of the newspaper.

In “reverse shovelware,” the sports editor or page layout person copies the story out of the online content management system, finds a photo from the photo desk, and pastes those into the print pagination system.

Why would this be problematic?

  • Your audience already knows the score. Those who are genuinely interested in the event have access to the story online, or a similar game report from another outlet. The information you are putting into the print edition is at least a day and a half old by the time it appears on your newsstand.
  • The situation might look different with additional time. Injuries that appeared serious during the game might be less serious after a day of observation. Keys to the game that seemed important immediately after the final buzzer sounded might not seem so important, or other crucial factors show up after additional thought.
  • The impact of the game might be different. Chances are there are other teams in your conference playing at the same time. Perhaps your reporter turned in the game story before those other games were complete. How did those scores change the overall standings?
  • The key participants might have new insights. Immediately after a game, the coach will have some soundbites, and even the coach hasn’t had time to fully study what happened over the course of the game. With time, it’s possible to get a better quote.

Those are just some of the ways a follow-up story – in the print edition – can benefit from additional reporting beyond the story that appeared online within the first hours after a game.

And this is even more crucial for publications that are on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule.

While sports is the most obvious example, the principles apply to any breaking news story. Every extra phone call, every extra bit of research can add needed context to a story. It’s tempting to stop working on a story once it’s published somewhere. When transitioning a story from web first to print, don’t abandon your story in the middle of the process.

Photo by Flickr user G & A Sattler, used under Creative Commons license.