How the demise of scoop-driven journalism will affect PR
On Friday, my colleague Christine Simeone pointed out a very interesting piece by Jon Friedman of Marketwatch, which raises the question whether journalistic "scoops" still matter. Despite the ego-stirring excitement of getting a jump on a story that I still remember well from my IT press days, Jon answers his own question about the relevance of scoops:
How long does a scoop last nowadays on the Internet? Ten seconds, maybe?
The Internet makes it possible for publishers and editors to measure a story's worth according to three criteria: most read, most emailed and most reader comments generated.
As if this new reality of digital publishing isn't unsettling enough for a reporter or a columnist to ponder, coming soon to a Web site near you: The powers-that-be will clamor to add a fourth variable. They'll be measuring precisely how much time readers/consumers are spending on each individual story.
Don Jennings commented that he's been hearing about these kinds of changes at some of the trade publications, where reporters aren't "measured on breaking news or investigative reporting; rather on being the 'Most read' story on the site." He said that this approach can start to turn off the journalists when they see that the story covering what the Hogwarts IT department is doing rates higher than the latest new product introduction by an industry bellwether.
Carol Hanko, one of our former journalists, thinks this approach of measuring journalists' articles by counting clicks isn't anything new. "A hundred years ago, the most successful papers were the ones that attracted the most buyers due to the shocking stories inside. Now we can just measure the specific stories getting the attention, versus the newspaper edition. But the difference today is that people don't have the time to actually read these stories - we have more information coming at us that anyone could ever imagine. In journalism school, we were taught that readers never turned the page to read the rest of the story. Now people don't read beyond the third paragraph (if a writer is lucky), which means fewer facts, less context and ultimately, more sensationalism. For a PR person, this makes
things much more challenging. If we want our clients to be included in these stories, spokespeople have to go out on a limb like never before."
I'm not sure where I sit on this matter, as a former journalist myself. I can tell you as a PR person that scoops and exclusives still matter to journalists, because they still ask for them. Clearly we in the PR and journalism fields are on shifting sands and are likely to be there for quite a while. It sounds like the two sides of the desk need to collaborate more than ever, with the ultimate goal being the most accurate, complete and fair coverage that, as Carol notes, includes particularly interesting insights from our clients that will raise an article's value on the web.