Are we seeing the death of the scoop?

Out of all the talk of printed journalism dying a death and online journalism being the only (formidably uncertain) way forward there is one point that has been particularly resonating with me – and that is the idea newspaper scoops are dying a death.

Pakula’s 1976 movie All the President’s Men has been used in our lectures as an example of what journalism is not anymore – or at least will not be in the future. The plot follows two intrepid reporters as they report the Watergate break-in story which ultimately resulted in the resignation of President Nixon – it is basically all about the power of the scoop.

In the light of this clip I was going to attempt to be a bit more optimistic about the currently supposed ‘death of the scoop’ and perhaps even offer an argument against it, but I don’t think I can – because I fear the dawning of online journalism is indeed killing the ‘scoop’, or, at the very least, changing it dramatically.

Take, for example, the events of this week. In the early hours of Wednesday morning Barack Obama made U.S. presidential history and the lead story gracing the front of The Guardian on that exact morning was that Barack was ‘on course’ for victory. Online and television news reports spoke only of his confirmed victory. The print industry simply could not compete with the level of immediacy provided by the live journalism mediums. Immediacy which is stubbornly required by today’s news consumers. Newspapers were quite simply telling yesterday’s news.

One post by communicative blogger Digi Dave suggests that scoops are now alienating audiences who not only need the news as it happens, but who need, or want, to be involved in it – to have their say. What was written was this, “Kill the idea of scoops. Don’t develop a project in secret or stealth. Hoarding your idea just means you won’t build community.”

So if we do use scoops we are alienating our audiences – but if we don’t use them, why should people tune in, or turn on, or read on? People want to know what’s going on in the world –  they want to know what the ‘news’ is. But aren’t they also attracted to the drama of news? To the soap-opera-esque (as I once heard it described) entertainment which is news? 

But maybe they can still have this. They will just have it online rather than in newspapers. The scoop may be dying in print but surely it can survive on the Internet – if anywhere.

 Mike Shannon, managing editor of the United States’ Oklahoman, suggested recently that, “Breaking news (is suitable for) the Internet while project-type stories are the true exclusives and should go first into the paper.”

Maybe there is hope yet for the traditional newspaper scoops. Would following Shannon’s proposed trend in fact allow the print industry to develop its own news niche? This in turn could help attract readers, who are increasingly turning to the Internet for their source of news, back to print.

As Donna Shaw of the American Journalism Review concludes, “Definitions of ‘scoop’ and ‘exclusive’ are evolving in the era of convergence. The Internet makes it much more dicey to hold a news story until your next edition; chances are greater than ever that someone will beat you to it. So investigative, enterprise and project stories have become the primary exclusives to be held for the print version.”

The development of the journalism industry is yet again issuing us new challenges. This time in the form of scoops.  

As was suggested by Matthew Yeomans, “Stay flexible – we are all flying blind.”

One response to “Are we seeing the death of the scoop?

  1. The other thing about scoops is it was often a lie.

    During a placement at J-school I was asked by the news ed of a weekly paper to ring a sister paper and ask why they had exclusive plastered across a story that had been printed by the weekly for two weeks! As you can imagine, there wasn’t a proper answer to this.

    Real exclusives depend on your contacts and networks, not on hoarding a story and not letting anyone else near it. Some stories that were kept in this way ended up being binned.

    I agree with your quote from Donna Shaw – something that I think is quite exciting – but do we have to limit those things to print? Isn’t it up to our community about how they want to consume it?

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