Bill Powers uses his column today to examine the curious tendency of the news media to have a piece of information first–to, as they say, break news. He quizzes readers on which news organization first reported (or “learned”) that Samuel Alito was the new SCOTUS nominee, and then explains why it doesn’t really matter–except as the internal benchmark in the inside baseball of the news business.
“People who get into the news business are generally those who like to know things before others — and to get credit for it. The true journalist loves nothing better than walking into a room with some hot tidbit and watching the jaws drop,” he writes. “News is, by definition, something new. A story somebody else has reported has already lost much of its inherent news value. On the most basic level, there is nothing newsier than a fresh scoop.”
But does it really matter whether you beat someone else by two minutes on a piece of news everyone will have in 15 minutes anyway?
His conclusion is perhaps the most important paragraph of the piece: “The true exclusive isn’t the story that beats the clock, or the pack. It’s the one that the pack never cared about. The one that reported the news so well, you remembered it days later, wanted to read it again, marveled at how it changed your understanding of the world. It’s the one that never had to call itself an exclusive, because that was obvious.”