Speedy and smart: back to the future
Wednesday 1 September 2021
Forgive me for being ever so slightly gobsmacked reading your latest news item "Reuters chief changes top team in drive for 'speedy and smart' newsroom”.
As Yogi Berra famously said: "It's like déjà vu all over again.”
Alessandra Galloni, appointed editor-in-chief in April, said in a message to staff that new appointments "will help drive the new Reuters newsroom: speedy and smart, leveraging a global footprint with local expertise to drive coverage of the most important stories in the world, for the world, without bias, both in real time and in depth, and with sophistication and insight. How do we do this? With a rigorous focus on breaking news and beat reporting.”
Which is exactly, word for word, what we did, around the world, for years. Speedy was our first priority with smart its conjoined twin.
We aimed to be first - timings v. the opposition agencies drove our days (seconds ahead often meant a triumph) - and accurate. Timings only conceded first place to accuracy.
(We almost - almost - lost the race to report the death of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in 1997 while we waited, chewing our nails, for a second source for Beijing Bureau's scoop. It was a world beat in the end - speedy and smart and based on immaculate coordination of international and local beat reporting.)
And how about that exhortation "without bias"? Play it again, Sam!
It was - or used to be? - Reuters core commitment, drilled deep into the newest recruits and embedded in the journalistic DNA of the most grizzled and cynical of veterans.
Reuters Washington in the 1980s spearheaded the drive to become a premier player in US news. (Hitherto Americans called us for plumbing repairs, confusing us with Roto-Rooter).
Our speed and smarts swatted the opposition - first and right, sophisticated and insightful, in real time and in depth, with a rigorous focus on breaking news and beat reporting. Say that again!
And Washington was far from alone. Around the world, Reuters international and local staff whipped out the fast, accurate, unbiased news that our general and business clients demanded.
As fake news flooded the planet many assumed that Reuters core values - fast, accurate, no frills, unbiased - would be ever more urgently needed.
So what has happened in Reuters news that it has to resurrect our core corpus? Where did we lose our way?
I'm an outsider now and from my retirement perch it seemed Reuters news was doing well. Pulitzers abounded. Never won a Pulitzer in my time.
But at the same time it seemed that Reuters was becoming more of a news magazine than a real time, no frills, fast and furious, agency. I read reports we lost surface timings we would have been expected to win while we scooped the prizes for deep mining.
And it seems key clients had questions too.
Galloni's message appears to expose the fault.
She disclosed the new global managing editor for news gathering, Mark Bendeich, is charged with producing coverage "crucial for Refinitiv, agency and reuters.com audiences.”
"Mark will be charged with finding smarter ways to serve our Agency customers, whose needs are clearer than ever," Galloni said.
He could do worse than go back to the future. Indeed, Mark may remember the time when we did exactly what is now sought.
We were speedy and smart. Famous for it. ■