As I was redesigning my website, I considered highlighting “exclusives” and/or “scoops” as is a common practice in journalism.
I quickly decided against “exclusives” because I see it being a term that’s primary purpose as become hype and lots all meaning. How many times do we see “exclusive interview” and the same person promoting something in every media outlet? Then there’s the exclusive that’s purchased by the journalist in a deal with the public/promotional agent. The PR agent “gives” a journalist “exclusive” “scoop” on a “news” story – in reality, the journalist just become the servant of the manipulative PR agent. They are no longer a journalist in the noble potential of the trade.
A false idol
More importantly, it’s a false idol. It’s chasing information but not for it’s value, but in the hope of promoting it’s momentary rarity. In the age of instant information, an exclusive lasts the time it takes a professional journalist to press CTRL+V and CTRL+C, which is why it’s a futile goal to aspire to.
Chasing exclusives exposes journalists to manipulation. As the primary goal is getting an “exclusive”, the journalist loses their sceptical inquiry and loses focus of our sole purpose – providing accurate information to our readers. We become self-serving egotistical dangerous proprietors of partial, or even worse false, information.
Media manipulation made easy
Read master media manipulator Ryan Holiday’s frank piece describing how he uses the “exclusive” bait to inject false misleading information into the media:
Once, during a very public lawsuit, I introduced a narrative into the media (that bloggers had refused to pick up and research when I tried to sell them on it) by composing a fake internal memo, supposedly leaked by an employee of one of the companies in the suit, and sending it to bunch of blogs. The same bloggers who were uninterested in the facts when I informed them directly, gladly put up posts about it that screamed “EXCLUSIVE!” and “LEAKED!”
Holiday’s piece should scare anyone who cares about the quality of the public discourse. He outlines in gory detail just how easy it is to manipulate the media to spread falsehoods: “A system where top media executives and owners explicitly acknowledge their preference for money over a quality product is a manipulator’s dream.”
The “exclusive” is part of the rotting root system underlying most of our media.
Not seeking exclusives doesn’t mean not wanting to publish in a timely matter
I believe the two most valuable content types are real-time actionable intelligence (real breaking-news) and long-view reflective pieces. I strive to succeed at both – what good is knowing about changes made by City Council the day after they are decided?
I often publish information first – but only after verifying it. Sometimes, I don’t publish information because I couldn’t meet my standards of verification. I never regret being “scooped” by others. If I started to be bothered by getting “scooped”, I’ll have an emotional incentive to cut concerns.
Avoiding emotional incentives
That’s the primary reason I no longer publish screaming “EXCLUSIVE” headlines. There’s a huge emotional rush to being first, it’s a rush I enjoy and I need to control my emotional rush.
Being taking away the “EXCLUSIVE” banner, I remove one incentive. I also increase my focus on the story and its quality.
I remember my first exclusive at Maclean’s, I celebrated for days. Exclusives while writing for The Silhouette, I enjoyed those as well. Back in my days solely blogging, I enjoyed scooping student newspapers on the other side of the country.
Misinformation destroys credibility, chasing exclusives is turning your back on readers
Not a week goes by that I don’t receive some anonymous tip that looks convincing at first glance. However, upon attempts to verify, it turns out to be false or misleading.
All a journalist has is their credibility, the brand of the outlet one writes for is quickly losing its value as the determinant of how one’s writing is viewed by readers. Taking false exclusives will quickly diminish and eventually destroy my credibility.
My credibility should not be the top reason I refuse to fall into the exclusive trap. The top reason is it doesn’t serve the reader, the reader doesn’t need any single site, they don’t need any single journalist, they don’t need an “exclusive” story. (Especially the false exclusives that dominate our mediascape)
It’s time for ORIGINAL to replace EXCLUSIVE
Imagine if journalism valued original content as much as we do “exclusives”? What would the typical news site look like then? Would our trade’ss standing in public opinion improve so we’re not racing with politicians in the public disdain race?
I strive to find stories that don’t arrive in the form of a press release. I don’t want every story I write to be “called in”. The news doesn’t happen at my desk, it doesn’t happen in a newsroom. It happens in the city, and that’s where journalists need to be. Original content is my goal each and every day.
Original stories, original insight – that’s a goal worth getting up in the morning for.
Audio – WYNC interview with Ryan Holiday