Some traditions of journalism should remain steadfast. SPJ's ethics seem like good principles to hold onto. Some cultural traditions of journalism, however, should be questioned and rethought.
Online: Content is king. I don't disagree. But collaboration is queen.
In chess the king is the most important, but the queen is the most powerful.
I recognize that what comes below will be to one extreme. I am idealistic but not ignorant that what will come below goes against the gospel of journalism for the last 50 years. But I also strongly believe it is something that needs to be addressed in our industry, right now, because it is killing the business - and more importantly the reputation of journalism.
What this brings me to is "the scoop" and the mentality of competition that it breeds. The scoop mentality is the collaboration killer. And remember kids: "Collaboration is Queen."
I'm not naive: Sometimes scoops are essential. Some investigations require stealth so as not to tip off sources you are digging into them. But most of the time a scoop is used to clown another journalist. "We scooped em' good" or "they are always chasing out leads." Etc.
Scoops have the half-life of a link.
- Do what you do best and link to the rest - Unless you are the AP, you aren't specializing in breaking news. Twitter has you beat. Learn to incorporate that - so instead of rushing out to get breaking news, you can add context and value to it.
- No website is an island. If it acts as such - then I hope the authors have a large extended family, because they are the only ones who will care.
- The best things happen when you freely reveal your ideas. Just ask Leonard Witt who got 1.5 million for sharing his ideas. At first he was hesitant to share his idea. I wonder if he regrets it now? I got a grant from Knight because I openly shared my ideas.
- How do you expect to grow a community if you don't include them in the planning of how they will be reported? This isn't rocket science - it's basic human psychology. The more you let me in and include me - the more I will be your friend and help.
- Scoops lead to the misconception that journalism is a product (my biggest gripe). That stories are open and shut cases. Once written they don't need to be revisited: "crap, we got scooped. I guess we should give up and stop our coverage of X."
Potential problem if you freely reveal your ideas.
- You tip off an investigation that needs stealth: A real problem, I admit.
- Someone will scoop you: No longer a problem - stop worrying about it.
- They won't even try to scoop you. You've already establish authority and readers on the subject.
- You had the idea up first. If they have any ounce of self-respect - they'll link to you. If they don't and a reader notices who looks like the fool?
- They'll partner with you and the two of you will do a better job than either one would alone.
- Just link to their coverage and blamo... they've done your pre-reporting. Stuff a $1 in their pocket, add a pat or two, thank them - and now add more to the evolving process that is journalism.
Downsides to not freely revealing your idea.
- More likely to make big mistakes and get fired ala Dan Rather.
- Even with the best of intentions, hoarding secrets for a "scoop" also makes it look as though you think: I'm an oh so smart journalist and I know how to cover the issue. Potential readers that I might discuss the topic with have nothing to add.
The situation on the ground is very different from what I envision in an idealistic world of journalism. And that is why I know I am to one extreme here. News organizations have a culture of constant competition. Newspapers battle like rival baseball teams. Imagine how much more could be done if instead of keeping score - newspapers collaborated like district police officers: Normally they stay in their own turf but if crimes jump from county to county or state to state, they know how to collaborate.
All this talk of micro-payments (which is another post) could never happen because newspapers can't figure out how to collaborate. Hell - they can barely link!
Knowing that I know nothing - I decided to ask my Tweeple: