Thursday, April 15, 2010

Competing Interests

Competition for subscriptions is fierce is the newspaper industry. Any advantage wrought from an inside source or an early story break can be the difference between a successful and failing publication. "Citizen Kane," "It Happened One Night" and "His Girl Friday" each romantically depict this struggle.

In this light, one of the largest pride-crushers can be found in a newspaper's citation of a competitor. Yet according to "Editorial Eye" by Jane Harrigan, a newspaper needs to ask "What will a citizen want to know." The sourcing is often less important.

One of the biggest rivalries in media displays the hesitance to cite a competitor that broken a story first: The Chicago Tribune vs. The Chicago Sun-Times.

In the March 11 The Chicago Tribune article "Funeral marks beginning of the Jimmy Deleo era" by John Kass, the hesitance to cite a competitor is evident. While The Chicago Sun-Times was the first newspaper to ask mob supporter Deleo the "hard" questions, The Chicago Tribune neglects to mention this until the end of the article.

"'What does that mean, 'mob-associated?'' said Deleo years ago, when the Sun-Times asked about political contributions," Kass wrote, slipping the fact in at the end of his article.

The Chicago Sun-Times is no less willing to swallow its pride. Throughout its archives, no sourcing is attributed to The Chicago Tribune. This is unrealistic as The Chicago Tribune broke multiple nationals story, including Gov. Blagojevich's corruption charges, that The Sun-Times followed up on.

A saving grace is the cooperation of the two, where reporting synergies arise. This arises in the Gov. Blagojevich coverage in the The Chicago Tribune article "Tribune, others ask to see case against Blagojevich" by Jeff Coen published on April 8.

"With Blagojevich's trial less than two months away, The Associated Press and The Chicago Sun-Times joined the Tribune in asking U.S. District Judge James Zagel to unseal the filing immediately," Coen wrote, illustrating the camaraderie that can arise from large scale stories.

While no editor wants to be outdone by her competitors, the serving the readers is the paramount job of a newspaper. If this means handing the reporting baton to a more able newspaper, that is a small price to pay.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Secrets, Secrets

People and USWeekly regularly publish rumors on celebrity gossip, political turmoil and entertainment happenings. While the rumors are often unfounded, they appease the target celebrity gossip-hungry audience. Rumors are not exclusive to celebrity gossip publications alone, however. Though utilized less often, publications as respected as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times use unverified facts under certain circumstances. A major editorial dilemma arises in the balance between the first to report or the best to report.

The New York Times channels many of its rumors through DealBook, a website interface which covers major business deals. Its use of rumors can be observed in the April 14 article, "China's Ag Bank Said to Choose Underwriters." The article drops important facts, without ever disclosing a concrete source.

"Sources with direct knowledge of the matter," "sources told Reuters," and "sources said," are all forms of rumor citing used by The New York Times' DealBook.

The Wall Street Journal also embraces rumors in its Overheard section. The segment is a daily article devoted solely to unfounded news. This business newspaper section is far more tabloid-esque in its reporting, as seen in the June 6 article, "Overheard."

According to the article, "EMC and NetApp may not be the only suitors for Data Domain. We overhear that at least one other major tech company is circling."

This rumor does not even pretend to have an anonymous source. Rather, it appears that The Wall Street Journal is merely speculating.

In a journalistically utopian world, anonymous sources and rumors would have no place in reporting. In reality, however, the are often the only way for a newspaper to break news. With The New York Times' DealBook and The Wall Street Journal representing two sides of the reporting rumors continuum, I believe that editors should error on the side of The New York Times.