What are news wires?
For most of U.S. media history (starting in the mid 19th century), news was collected and disseminated by a small group of news wires. When you hear the term “news wires,” it sounds like an antiquated concept, but outlets like the Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI) have been delivering worldwide news to publications and news consumers for more than 150 years.
They essentially gather and sell news to other publications, broadcasters and internet sites. Newspapers typically marked articles as AP or UPI near the byline to denote their source. The wires eventually offered their stories directly to the public via sites like Google News and Bing News.
These companies started with technology that included typewriters attached to telephone wires (teletype), hence the term wires. By transmitting efficiently, they developed early monopolies on facts and story delivery.
The new news wires.
While the wires still publish and distribute news in bulk, there’s a relatively new phenomenon afoot that started around 2003 when the practice of blogging became popular.
As we’ll discuss, blogs (and later Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites) slowly replaced the influence and efficacy of news wires.
In fact, today’s PR professionals, marketers, news gatherers and political commentators probably owe more to blogs than they do the wires. Blogs are where breaking news happens, and they’re where most of the people who follow news as a profession – the ones in the industry who set the trends and propagate the stories – develop their stories these days.
Blogs develop the leaks, lies, facts, half-truths and semi-baked stories that end up grabbing headlines in the larger outlets like The New York Times and others. Yes, these publications employ their own bloggers and reporters, but the business is a bit incestuous. Reporters follow blogs and blogs follow reporters – often misreporting in the process.
Ryan Holiday explains all of it expertly in his modern classic Trust Me, I’m Lying.
Within that book Holiday shows how stories begin on blogs (and blogs gain prominence in media circles) and develop “up the chain” as opposed to “down the chain” as they had in the past.
Up the chain/Down the chain
For most of media history, news originated at large publications (via their reporters and the wires) and was filtered down to other local, national and international publications.
All that changed with the advent of the internet and blogs.
Early on, marketers and PR pros figured out how to gain the new system and reversed the flow of news.
Instead of taking cues from those at the top of the chain, they create stories of their own design, pitch them to influential blogs and then market them upwards in the news structure.
As Holiday explains, they’ll start with one story (adding the required sexiness, scandal or hype) and pitch it to an influential blog.
Once they have that initial post validated on a blog, they pitch it to another outlet – typically a local news channel that will create a video story. With the video and post in hand, they then pitch it further up the chain to larger media outlets.
Holiday’s prime example explains how Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty ran for governor after being covered heavily by Politico.
Politico gained prominence and exposure by covering politics in detail and essentially crafting new stories out of thin air in order to captivate political journalists.
Pawlenty was the original case study. As Holiday explained in his book, newspapers have a finite space for reporting (in physical print) and cable TV channels have a finite 24-hour, 365-day format for delivering news. However, the internet and blogs need to fill infinite space, so they’re highly motivated to produce stories (often of dubious origin) on an ongoing basis. Political blogs, in particular, need to create news and ad revenue even when we’re not in a hyped-up two or four-year election cycle when most of the advertising revenue pours in. A story like Pawlenty’s helped Politico create relevance for the 2012 elections, but it also demonstrated how a candidate and his story could be crafted at virtually any time.
While the original wires like AP may have been reliable and somewhat trustworthy (and that’s up for debate), the new paradigm with blogs and the players that game them presents problems.
How does an average news consumer know what outlets and stories to trust, especially when so many ancillary “news producers” and reporters are gaming the system from the bottom up?
How can you tell when you’ve stumbled upon suspect news?
Can you tell the difference between trusted news and fake news?
If you’ve read my book Media Collusion you have some tactics at your disposal. The book covers this topic and numerous other media deceptions that can be avoided with the right mind set and strategies.