Covering the news in the digital age: a new challenge
I have been in the news business for more than four decades, all served here at Coin World. During that time, I have seen incredible changes, not only in the coins and paper money and other numismatic items in circulation that we collect, but also in the way the hobby is covered in the news, not only here but by the general media at large.
It used to be that once a completed issue of Coin World was pulled off the printing press here in Sidney, Ohio, it went into United States Postal Service tractor trailers to be distributed nationwide. Subscribers in surrounding states might get their copies in the mail in a day or two while subscribers in distant California or Oregon might wait a week or longer to receive their copies. Life seemed to move slower in those days and most readers did not mind the wait to get their weekly issue of Coin World. In most cases, news — about the year’s new Proof set becoming available or an upcoming auction or whatever — still arrived in plenty of time for a subscriber to act.
Life has changed.
Today, the news cycle is 24/7, sometimes even for us here. Most of us can remember when a 24-hour television news channel like CNN seemed “excessive” — did we really need that much news that quickly? — we thought then. Today, though, many of us seem glued to our smart phones constantly. The fact that we can get the news, including video, on a telephone we can carry in our pocket, would have seemed like science fiction not too long ago.
As technology advanced and collector expectations changed, a week-long wait to receive news about a new U.S. Mint product or a treasure hoard discovery or an announcement about a new design for a Federal Reserve note was no longer as acceptable as it once was, both to our readers and our staff. Readers want to know about the news as quickly as possible and like to discuss it as the news unfolds, on online collector forums and on places like Coin World’s Facebook page.
With these new expectations and new technologies came new challenges, including how to report the news using time-honored journalistic techniques while at the same getting the news to our readers fast. Sometimes the two concepts clash.
We can post coverage almost immediately (well, we do have to sleep) but doing so does not always meet our traditional journalistic standards — checking facts, confirming details, getting it right before publishing.
A recent example comes to mind.
News reports circulated that an 8-year-old girl had discovered a 2,000-year-old half shekel in disputed territory the West Bank. The Coin World editorial staff knows that treasure finds are among our most popular news stories; everyone loves to read about someone else’s good fortune and luck in finding a rare coin or better, a hoard of rare coins. The West Bank story had everything going for it — a treasure find made by a young child. However, you did not see a report of the discovery in Coin World’s print issue or at our website, even though a number of news reports appeared online in the general media.
There was one problem. The coin was a modern replica that could be found in Israel museum gift shops, a fact pointed out by a respected Israeli numismatist a week or so after the first news accounts were published. Had news organizations consulted with a knowledgeable numismatist before publishing, the news could have been reported correctly from the start or, better, not reported at all, because the find of a replica is really not news.
When we see news accounts of a treasure find, our standard approach is to move cautiously. If the find is in Britain, as many of them are, we rely on our longtime London correspondent, John Andrew, to confirm the discovery. John knows British law governing hoard finds and knows who to contact. He often lands personal interviews with the finders and the officials who confirm the discovery. This process often means that reporting the news is delayed but the added detail he can include in his coverage makes the coverage much more rewarding than a fast link on our website or Facebook page to a story reported elsewhere that we cannot confirm is accurate. (In fact, we expect to publish, very soon, one of John’s outstanding news accounts of a recent hoard find.)
It is certainly possible to publish some news immediately. When we learn the price or an edition limit and ordering details for an upcoming U.S. Mint product, we publish that information as quickly as we can. (In August, for example, when we learned that the 2017 Enhanced Uncirculated Coin set, which had been thought to have “sold out,” was available again, we published that news online and at our website within minutes. Readers apreciated those quick news alerts, especially those who had been unsuccessful during the first round of sales.) Other news, however, requires confirmation, and we are willing to wait until we get that confirmation before publishing.
Striking a balance between timely news coverage and making sure we get that coverage right is challenging. However, those are the kinds of challenges we love at Coin World.