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.

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