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How To Be A Better Press: Prioritize The Journalism Over The Business

September 15, 2010

Nobody ever mentions anybody else in the world of news gathering unless a copyright claim forces it. Before the Web, this was understandable, because as far as anybody knew, our reporters had all the angles on everything. The idea that the guy across town had it first was irrelevant, so why mention it? As far as our viewers or readers were concerned, we were the font of all knowledge. Besides, we had the time to gather everything we needed anyway. It was the world of the “finished” news product.

But now, with news in real time, everybody can clearly see stories develop across all sources. We know who got it first. We know when something is exclusive. Our hype is just nonsense.

Terry Heaton’s PoMo Blog

I don’t often make other people’s posts the subjects of my own, but I must call attention to this one from Terry Heaton right away.

I’ve been in journalism long enough now (almost three years, not counting college and freelance before that) to get what we’re all worried about: Ad rates are dropping; Craigslist destroyed the market for classifieds; no one wants to pay for our products when they can get them for free on the web; etc. My worry is that we find ourselves, currently, in a losing battle and at the moment, we appear to be losing ourselves. Another snippet from Heaton’s post:

  • why is our “business” more important than the news we’re trying to cover?

In other words, some of us are still “holding stories for print,” or for on-air or whatever? If our goal is to run a business, then that’s fine, but if we’re going to continue to try to argue to the American public that we’re some altruistic Fourth Estate, we need to always first do what’s best for our audience. If I work at The New York Times and I read something in the Wall Street Journal that’s valuable to my readers, I’m holding out on my readers if I go and report it first rather than linking to the credible source in the meantime.

Or put it in terms like this: If I’m a Republican Senator and I know that Bill X is good for the American public, but I refuse to back it because it was conceived by Democrats, I’m actively and knowingly screwing over my constituents.

We may not like getting beat from time to time, but in the end, we all get scoops and beat someone. Our audiences can be better informed, we can be a better press and it starts with this.

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