The journalism profession, part 5: Competition vs. Purpose

Had an interesting exchange with a couple of journalists over the holiday weekend regarding the importance of exclusivity in publications.  Long story short, they still believed it was necessary.  In other words, the idea is that publications are not valid unless the majority of their content is exclusive to the publication.

And I still maintain that position is not only stupid but no longer exists.

First, the Internet make exclusivity nearly impossible.  As soon as something is published online it starts getting spread all over the earth.  More often then not, the exclusive content is pirated in publications based in other countries wither copyright law isn't that much of a concern.  Now there are some publishing houses, like TechInsights that still seek legal action against people pirating their stuff, even when the other publications specifically give them credit, but TechInsights makes the valid point that if they can read it elsewhere, then why read a TechInsights publication.  But then, by the time the other publications actually take the content, it's months old.

Second, the amount of exclusive content in any publication, online or in print, is a fraction of what it once was.  Much of the content in newspapers comes from wire services or syndication.  Radio and television relies on a lot of canned content from corporations.  B2B publications, especially online, are primarily contributed articles from vendors and lack any sort of objectivity.  The fact is that most publications have cut back staff so much, that they cannot possibly fill their pages or websites with original content, exclusive or not.  And don't get me started on news releases.  A significant amount of "news" in B2B publications are merely edited or rewritten news releases.  And that stuff shows up everywhere.

There are some publications that are trying to produce a significant amount of exclusive content, combined with contributed pieces, but those publications are struggling to make ends meet because they still try to sell sponsorships on the basis of that content.  And it ain't work'n.

Now that's not to say that there should be no exclusive content.  If you can, that's always good.  But to make it a sales point is just plain stupid.

And that brings me to the point of this screed. If we are professionals, it should not matter if what we produce is exclusive.  It should ONLY matter that it is the best effort at truth and objectivity.  That's what makes it valuable; not that you can only find it in one place.  For journalism to become a real profession, we must adhere to that overriding principal.  We must become collaborative and truth must find multiple outlets.