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Redefining the “scoop”

As if the mainstream media don’t have enough troubles. Revenue is declining. Newspapers and magzines are closing. Layoffs are rampant.

So is it reasonable, even desireable, for the media to cover every news event first? Must they always get the “scoop?”

I was debating this question with a colleague this morning. My colleague argued the media got scooped on the plane crash—you could also callit a water-based landing—in the Hudson River. The first images showing the plane in the water appeared on Twitter rather than the New York Times’ Web site, or live TV. Were the media scooped? Perhaps.

When I was a journalist, we loved “scooping” the competition. Were we first? Did they have the story at all? Eventually, the definition of a scoop evolved to a matter of minutes rather than the morning edition. Did we have the story online first? What about our photo?”

Today, billions of ireporters walk the world, armed with ever-sophisticated cell phones that take photos and video. Their enterprising owners then using the technology to tweet to the world. Meanwhile, the number of journalists working for the mainstream media dwindles. So, is it realistic to expect the media to be first?

Secondly, is it important that they are?

In reality, reporting breaking news on deadline is extremely difficult. Facts are misconstrued, mistakes of ommission are committed. Creating the first draft of history is no easy task, and yet, that is what reporting on breaking news really is.

In fact, as the number of self-appointed ireporters grows, it will be virtually impossible for media to be first all the time. Rather, we hope they are first when it is important and, more critically, that they get it right.

David Carr, one of my favorite media critics, writes in today’s New York Times of the various strengths of newspapers. He mentions the value of strong investigative journalism. In today’s changing world, the value of getting it right—rather than first—and shouting it to the masses is pretty darn important as well.

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