Media Moves

Being fast and smart while reporting the jobs number

September 1, 2015

Posted by Allen Wastler

Allen Wastler 3One of the regular tests of business news competence and execution is coming this Friday: the jobs number.

It’s always an important number — the primary thermometer of how the economy is doing. This time around it will attract even more attention, given the market anxiety over the Fed’s September interest rate decision.

For business news outfits, it’s become a two-front fight.

Speed used to be the primary contest: Who could get the number up the fastest. And that still matters. If your competitors have that number up on the screen and you don’t, you look out of step. Also in these days of Web algorithms, speed is typically rewarded with better search placement.

So if you are after audience in terms of viewers and clicks, you have to be fast (and accurate, obviously). It’s a test of execution.

But speed to report isn’t the total winner anymore. Indeed, many a Twitter feed can now defeat most news organizations’ TV, radio or Web flashes.

More and more the contest is now becoming about “speed to context” or who can provide the most relevant, on-point analysis the fastest. It’s less about “what it is” and more about “what it means.”

Different platforms have different inherent advantages here. And shortcomings. Here are some:

  • Business TV and radio lines up experts to dissect the number on-air the moment it’s revealed. Of course, the analysis is only as good as the experts and perhaps the anchor, who is charged with keeping the conversation relevant and out of the weeds.
  • Digital business news outlets will throw up their respective analysis pieces as quickly as possible. Indeed, some Net writers will have pre-written different versions of their analysis piece, then use the one that is the closest fit to what the actual number was. These pieces tend to get updated throughout the day, especially if markets gyrate while digesting the news. As a result, the final write-through may be choppy and quite different from where it started out.
  • Print outfits, of course, have the benefit of time to gather up a variety of reactions and craft well-thought out pieces. By the same token, that time lag may cost them actual audience interest.
  • Contrast this with the social media world, which will explode with comments and observations from a variety of sources, some good and some who feign good. But it’s bits and pieces, not a big picture. Until, of course, a decent big picture piece or discussion clip gets posted and passed around.

Speed and intelligence often don’t go together. It usually takes some time to think things through. Nevertheless, our immediate-gratification world has made that the contest. So this Friday, watch to see who can be fast AND smart.

Allen Wastler is the former managing editor of and the former managing editor of He can be reached at




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