When a journalist digs up an original story and other media outlets pick up on it, should they give the original reporter some sort of credit for their work?
It happens. Some reporter or another comes up with a wholly original story. Maybe they did some investigating. Maybe they got a tip. Maybe they were in the right place at the right time. In any case, they break a story and then other media outlets, the “competition”, follow.
I’m not talking about getting a press release first or being first on the scene of an accident. I’m talking about honest-to-goodness digging where a reporter finds a story that no one else did, and quite possibly no one else would have.
I am also not talking about news outlets wholesale copying each other without doing any of their own work to verify facts or move things forward and not providing any form of credit. That’s lazy, and it’s also irresponsible. What if the first source made a mistake?
But I think we enter a gray area when there’s a big story that is revealed as the result of a reporter doing some investigative work or even being in the right place at the right time. If it’s an important story, it’s normal for other reporters to verify the facts, make their own phone calls, get their own quotes, and then “match” the story. This isn’t copying, and they are doing their own reporting. But they would never even know about the story if it weren’t for that first reporter. This is called matching.
Anthony De Rosa of Reuter makes the case for ending matching altogether:
“If someone already reported the story, you’ve verified their story is correct, and you have nothing to move that story forward, write a brief and link to who did the legwork already. By all means, let your readers know about the story, lead them to it. Be a beacon for all news, not just your own. Then, move on and produce something of more value.
“Newsrooms are low on resources, apply those resources efficiently. Your 500 word re-write of the same article your ‘competitor,’ as you call them, is un-necessary and a total waste of time.”
I’ve been matched on original stories that I’ve done, and I’ve matched other people’s stories. It’s a widespread practice. And I don’t think it’s ending any time soon. So I’m wondering if there’s a middle ground.
I am constantly using other reporters from all sorts of news outlets for their own findings, contexts, and angles, and using that to inform my own interpretations and stay up-to-date on stories I’m interested in, but not actively covering. I think of other outlets more as my colleagues than my competition, because we are all working in the same ecosystem. The more (responsible) media outlets we are able to sustain, the better, in my humble opinion.
So how do we reward others for their work? If we were pointed in the right direction by another outlet, should that be noted in our own stories? Should there be an explanation about where the story originated? Or do we just assume the readers/listeners/viewers will know, and it will all work out?
If you are in the industry (or just interested), some things to think about.
Note: the first version of this post was not very well-written, so I’ve changed it to be slightly less not very well-written. For reference, you can view the original here.
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