Today’s scoop, and why it means so little

Today on Twitter, I chortled:

Scoop! Today’s lead story in the paper was on my blog 4 days ago

… Not that I’m gloating, of course. I’m just saying, even a blind hog, etc….

And I wouldn’t gloat because, well, it doesn’t mean much.

To begin with, as news goes, it didn’t mean much to me. I’m not really big on the “size of the warchest” horserace stuff in politics, I just wanted to mention having chatted with Steve as one of my routine “contact reports” (I mean, I went to the meeting, so I might as well say something about it), and so I threw out that tidbit — in passing.

I haven’t talked with Adam at the paper, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he heard it the same day I did, but wanted to run down whether it really was a record or not, but then someone decided after a couple of days that he’d better just go ahead and report what he had. But that’s just conjecture on my part. Or maybe, just maybe, he was waiting to see a document rather than just reporting what Steve said, which would be the responsible thing. In any case, it’s not like it was earth-shattering news that you HAD to hear right away.

The reason I raise this now is to say that you will sometimes read things here on this blog before you see them in the paper, and while it might mean the paper’s falling down on its job, it doesn’t necessarily. What brings this point to mind was reading Lee’s comment back here, when he said:

The Free Times, a give-away weekly in Columbia, has plenty of ads, and more in depth coverage of local government than The State. In fact, it has broken many stories of waste and corruption which The State either missed or sat on.

Here’s the thing about that… I don’t want to take anything away from The Free Times, but I will say that if they didn’t have a scoop now and then, there’d be something wrong with them — regardless of how good a job The State is doing.

Here’s why: One newsman worth his salt can always find something that the newsroom with 100 people isn’t writing about. One of the most enviable positions in journalism is to be a one-man bureau in another paper’s town. Given the fact that the largest news organization in the world, and the best one in the world, is only going to cover more than a fraction of the thousands, or millions, of things going on in a given coverage area, you can always hit ’em where they ain’t.

And if you’d like to create the impression that they’re falling down on the job and only you are telling folks what is truly going on, all you have to do is beat them on one fairly significant development about once a year or so. That’s because nobody notices the thousands of times they beat YOU (many times a day, usually), because they’re supposed to beat you. It’s also because no one expects YOU to cover everything. And of course, nobody CAN cover everything, but the dominant local medium catches hell for anything significant that it misses, because it’s supposed to at least give the impression of covering everything of significance. Whereas if you’re the one-man operation, you can work on your one story, the one you hope will be a scoop, and ignore everything else — and no one will think the worse of you.

If I went to New York, I could do it to The New York Times. If Burl, who has spent his whole career in Hawaii, came to Columbia, he could do it to The State. So can I. I just did, without trying…

The dominant local medium always plays defense; you’re always on offense. The big paper never “wins” but occasionally you do — and when you do, folks like Lee are ready to damn the paper for its “failure.” And I say that not to criticize Lee; I’ve heard that many, many times from nice, smart people who are really upset that their paper didn’t have the story first. Sometimes they’re right to feel that way. But sometimes they’re not.

20 thoughts on “Today’s scoop, and why it means so little

  1. Lee Muller

    I said sometimes it is a failure of the dominant newspaper to cover a story in depth, and sometimes it is a refusal, he help advance the agenda of politicians they like, out of public view.

  2. Brad Warthen

    Yeah, Lee, I know what you said. But the paper doesn’t willfully ignore news. You just have no idea how much the editors of a dominant medium HATE getting beaten on a story, what lengths they’d go to to avoid it.

    But they’re still going to fail sometimes.

  3. Lee Muller

    Then I suppose it was a failure to report the news about President Holderman at USC even after it had been reported by the other newspapers in SC, NC, and Georgia.

    Likewise, a failure to report all the details about the city’s numerous projects which were not meeting budgets or expectations.

  4. Burl Burlingame

    Actually, I haven’t spent my WHOLE career in Hawaii. I worked in Columbia for a while. Missouri, that is, for the Columbia Daily Tribune. I suppose the Columbia Missourian counts too.
    There’s also the notion of “reporting” instead of “repeating.” Journalism is a process that primarily involves editing and balance.
    Also, also, one story in a weekly might cause a flash, but it’s the daily followups that matter in the long run. We’re there to shine light in dark places, and some folks believe that you must have a secret agenda to do so.
    Daily newspapers fail every day at pleasing everybody. Sorry.

  5. Brad Warthen

    Um, Lee… the only place I read about that stuff about the city is in the paper… Perhaps you’re thinking of that story about the Innovista developer, which was a good scoop by the Free Times, and one of exactly the type that I’m talking about here.

    And the Holderman stuff — well, I actually had that in mind when I was talking about being in a bureau in someone else’s town. I missed when all that broke (although I was here for the end of it), but from what I can tell John Monk had a field day with that as the out-of-town guy who concentrated on that over a long period of time.

    Was there a difference of opinion between the editors of The State and those of the Observer at that time as to what was newsworthy about the Holderman story and what wasn’t, and whether it was worth pursuing aggressively? Yep, very much so, from what I saw. And The State’s reputation suffered greatly from it, because as it unfolded the Holderman mess just turned out to be worse and worse, so the Observer looked better and better for having pursued it.

    And you may recall that later, right after I became editorial page editor, I hired John Monk, and he’s done a great job at The State since then.

    SPEAKING of whom — I’m glad you made me think about him. I just paused in the middle of writing this comment to call John and check up on him.
    He had a pacemaker put in last week, just out of the blue — he’s a big swimmer and hiker and stays in good shape — but I hadn’t heard anything about how he was doing. So I took a chance and called his cell, and it sounds like he’s doing great!

  6. kbfenner

    I didn’t realize my brother was at the Observer with John Monk!–My John was filling me in on the Holderman scandal–Holderman was president–the great hope– when we were at USC, and I was in Chicago. I didn’t realize it was our John Monk who was the wizard reporter!

    I do admire him, and I’m so glad he’s doing well.

    His DHEC series was excellent and seems to have brought some positive change.

  7. Lee Muller

    Now, it’s a new day, and time to bring Brad down to Earth.

    A professional journalist, Christopher Andersen, author of the new best-seller “Barack and Michelle: Portrait of An American Marriage,” writes that William Ayers said he is the real author of “Dreams of My Father”.

    Anderson, who likes Obama, spends six pages detailing how Obama received a huge advance for the book, but could produce nothing, so brought in his CLOSE FRIEND, Bill Ayers, to ghost write it for him.

  8. Lee Muller

    If you think that reality is bad, wait until our undocumented president is barred from running for a second term, and all the legislation he signs is null and void.

  9. kbfenner

    Calling our duly-elected President, whose birth certificate has indeed been made public, undocumented, especially in war time, is treasonous. Do you want the terrorists to win?

    He isn’t working for the Democrats. He’s with the Taliban! He wants our President to fail! He wants our country to fall into leaderless chaos! You were so close to the truth–you just didn’t go far enough!Why didn’t I see it sooner!

  10. Lee Muller

    fenner, I don’t blame you for being deceived by the images of ersatz “birth certificates” posted on the Internet, and the deceptive “certification” made by Democrats in Hawaii that the birth certificate for Obama exists….

    … but the authentic, legal document has not been produced for examination, and is still the subject of several legal battles, in which Obama has six different law firms around the country fighting to seal his birth, passport, visa, and college application records from examination by the courts and FEC.

    Obama and the Democrats appear to be failing to solve our economic problems, but their policies are so out of line with what experts recommend that I don’t think it is failure, as much as it is intentional destruction of our capitalist infrastructure: banks, insurance, manufacturing, and housing.


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