How high-frequency journalism is like high-frequency trading [poynter]
September 8, 2012 Leave a comment
by Paul Wilson
In two very different industries — the news media and the financial sector — once unfathomable technology is feeding intense competition in ways that have prompted serious soul searching and some very troubling mistakes.
For the world’s financial markets, questions are being asked about high-frequency trading (HFT) where complex algorithms analyze markets and execute orders at incredibly quick speeds, often competing over milliseconds.
For journalism, there is no comparable term — though “high-frequency journalism” might be appropriate. Tools like Twitter have removed built-in, age-old safeguards (notably, time) that many reporters used to double-check information, amping up competition and lowering the bar for verification before publication.
This summer could be a case study in what can now go wrong in both industries.
- For HFT, there was Knight Capital’s astounding loss of $440 million in 45 minutes, which itself followed 2010’s notorious ‘flash crash’, among other incidents.
- For journalism, there was incorrect reporting following the Supreme Court’s ruling on President Obama’s landmark healthcare legislation, which, of course followed inaccurate reports of celebrity death.
And, of course, both industries struggle with a sort of “echo effect” — where a high degree of interconnectedness makes mistakes propagate faster than ever before.
With so much at stake, are the two industries, essentially, engaging in competition for competition’s sake, and dismissing the public good that is supposed to be part of the bargain?
Wired notes that “Wall Street used to bet on companies that build things. Now it just bets on technologies that make faster and faster trades.”