Getting the Competitive Edge in News Reporting

Gathering and reporting the news has always been a highly competitive business. It is cut-throat. The race to get “the scoop” or to “break the story” is how reputations are made.

Daily newspapers, weekly news magazines, the 6:00 PM network news, 24/7 cable news, the Internet. The medium changed. However, the way that news was gathered and reported did not change so much.

Until recently.

To properly report a story you had to be there. On-the-ground. Live and in-person. You needed access to your subjects (and their handlers) in order to obtain exclusive interviews. You needed to be present in order to report “leaks” from anonymous sources. The reason that reporters needed to be on the scene was to report the “back story” – the story behind the story.

But now there is a new story. And this time it is about the process of gathering and reporting the news:

“The Buzz on the Bus: Pinched, Press Steps Off” – This is the story in today’s New York Times.

Except… It was also the lead political story on the MSNBC website. And it had a prominent placement on The Drudge Report. And The Huffington Post and at least a half a dozen other Internet “news” sites.

Here is a brief excerpt from the NY Times piece written by Jacques Steinberg:

“Traveling campaign reporters say they try to do more than just regurgitate raw information or spoon-fed news of the day, which anyone who watches speeches on YouTube can do. The best of them track the evolution and growth (or lack thereof) of candidates; spot pandering and inconsistencies or dishonesty; and get a measure of the candidate that could be useful should he or she become president.

Deep and thoughtful reporting is also being produced by journalists off the trail. And some news organizations that can afford it are doing both. But the absence of some newspapers on the trail suggests not only that readers are being exposed to fewer perspectives drawn from shoe-leather reporting, but also that fewer reporters will arrive at the White House in January with the experience that editors have typically required to cover a president on Day 1.”

(Click here to view a slide show accompanying the NY Times article.)

So, today, many news reporters do not have to put up with inconvenient travel schedules, stripping down in order to pass through airport screening machines, fast-food diets, suspicious hotel accommodations and a noticeable lack of sleep. Their editors don’t even need to go to the expense of installing expensive connections to The Associated Press (AP) or Reuters. They just need a 24/7 broadband connection to The Drudge Report.

The Drudge Report is one of the most widely viewed Internet sites. Almost every political reporter maintains a constant connection to his site. And Matt Drudge does not even report! He collects the news stories that others report and he creates “headline links” to the original sources. The only editing that he does is to select the stories to place on his one-page website and to determine their placement or prominence.

And now, it appears, that many mainline media are “doing the Drudge.” They are populating their pages via “links” to the original reporting that others perform. They need news content that is constantly updated. However, the costs of actually going out into the field to gather reports are rapidly escalating at the same time that their subscription base and advertising revenue are in a precipitous free-fall.

So what can the media do? Create “links” to other media sites? This is not a blatant case of “passing off as their own” the original content that others create. After all, the original sources are always credited – and I hope compensated!

“The Medium is the message.”

Marshall McLuhan coined that phrase in 1964. That was at a time when the visual media, especially television was rapidly replacing newspapers, books and radio as the preferred medium for news and entertainment.

Perhaps now, 44 years later it is time to reapply this phrase to our analysis of news reporting – especially in the arena of politics.

“The medium is the message.”

Case in point: The recent story that Senator Clinton “exaggerated” the danger of her 1996 trip to Bosnia in order to boost her credibility and credentials as an experienced (potential) Commander-in Chief.

As Michael Calderone reports today on the website, a reporter from Newsday wrote about this “discrepancy” back in December 2007 and January 2008 – during the run-up to the Iowa Caucuses. And Meredith Viera directly questioned Sen. Clinton about her “departure from the facts” on the January 2, 2008 edition of NBC’s Today Show. The “Boys on the Bus” – and the female reporters also – who comprised the travelling Press Corps knew about this and openly joked about it. From Calderone’s article:

“Over the past day, journalists present on the trip have provided details that show Clinton’s account wasn’t accurate. But why did this take so long for the press to refute?”

So… why didn’t this story gain traction until now?

Because it took a collection of bloggers and YouTube “sleuths” to collect the news video footage from the 1996 trip to Tuzla, Bosnia and contrast them with Sen. Clinton’s prepared remarks delivered on March 17, 2008!

“The medium is the message!”

Case in point: The inflammatory remarks of Senator Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

This is also a case where many reporters had heard about the inflammatory remarks. They had this information for months.

So why did it take so long for this story to appear?

It took the YouTube”Sleuths”to gather the most outrageous video clips and circulate them over the Internet. They spread like a wildfire. And now Sen. Obama was feeling the heat! It wasn’t the reporters from the mainstream media who broke this story. They didn’t start the grilling of Sen. Obama. The “new news media” did that for them!

“The medium is the message!”

The competitive landscape has changed! The rules have changed. This time it really is different. The medium is the message.

Perhaps David Sarnoff – a pioneer in broadcast media – said it best:

“Competition brings out the best in products and the worst in people.”

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