Collaboration is Queen

Some traditions of journalism should remain steadfast. SPJ’s ethics seem like good principles to hold onto. Some cultural traditions of journalism, however, should be questioned and rethought.

Online: Content is king. I don’t disagree. But collaboration is queen.

In chess the king is the most important, but the queen is the most powerful.

Collaboration is Queen

I recognize that what comes below will be to one extreme. I am idealistic but not ignorant that what will come below goes against the gospel of journalism for the last 50 years. But I also strongly believe it is something that needs to be addressed in our industry, right now, because it is killing the business – and more importantly the reputation of journalism.

What this brings me to is “the scoop” and the mentality of competition that it breeds. The scoop mentality is the collaboration killer. And remember kids: “Collaboration is Queen.”

I’m not naive: Sometimes scoops are essential. Some investigations require stealth so as not to tip off sources you are digging into them. But most of the time a scoop is used to clown another journalist. “We scooped em’ good” or “they are always chasing out leads.” Etc.

News flash…

Scoops have the half-life of a link.

  • Do what you do best and link to the rest – Unless you are the AP, you aren’t specializing in breaking news. Twitter has you beat. Learn to incorporate that – so instead of rushing out to get breaking news, you can add context and value to it.
  • No website is an island. If it acts as such – then I hope the authors have a large extended family, because they are the only ones who will care.
  • The best things happen when you freely reveal your ideas. Just ask Leonard Witt who got 1.5 million for sharing his ideas. At first he was hesitant to share his idea. I wonder if he regrets it now? I got a grant from Knight because I openly shared my ideas.
  • How do you expect to grow a community if you don’t include them in the planning of how they will be reported? This isn’t rocket science – it’s basic human psychology. The more you let me in and include me – the more I will be your friend and help.
  • Scoops lead to the misconception that journalism is a product (my biggest gripe). That stories are open and shut cases. Once written they don’t need to be revisited: “crap, we got scooped. I guess we should give up and stop our coverage of X.”

Potential problem if you freely reveal your ideas.

  • You tip off an investigation that needs stealth: A real problem, I admit.
  • Someone will scoop you: No longer a problem – stop worrying about it.

Potential answers…

  • They won’t even try to scoop you. You’ve already establish authority and readers on the subject.
  • You had the idea up first. If they have any ounce of self-respect – they’ll link to you. If they don’t and a reader notices who looks like the fool?
  • They’ll partner with you and the two of you will do a better job than either one would alone.
  • Just link to their coverage and blamo… they’ve done your pre-reporting. Stuff a $1 in their pocket, add a pat or two, thank them – and now add more to the evolving process that is journalism.

Downsides to not freely revealing your idea.

  • More likely to make big mistakes and get fired ala Dan Rather.
  • Even with the best of intentions, hoarding secrets for a “scoop” also makes it look as though you think: I’m an oh so smart journalist and I know how to cover the issue. Potential readers that I might discuss the topic with have nothing to add.

The realities

The situation on the ground is very different from what I envision in an idealistic world of journalism. And that is why I know I am to one extreme here. News organizations have a culture of constant competition. Newspapers battle like rival baseball teams. Imagine how much more could be done if instead of keeping score – newspapers collaborated like district police officers: Normally they stay in their own turf but if crimes jump from county to county or state to state, they know how to collaborate.

All this talk of micro-payments (which is another post) could never happen because newspapers can’t figure out how to collaborate. Hell – they can barely link!

Knowing that I know nothing – I decided to ask my Tweeple:

MrJoshuaWilson: Complex issue. I prefer collaboration. But only w appropriate partners. Competitors exist too. Rule: Don’t play all cards at once!

about 13 hours ago

tigerbeat: Though there are some investigative pieces that can’t be collaborative to protect sources, etc. But info in story imp, not scoop

about 13 hours ago

brochtrup: chess is hard.

about 13 hours ago

tigerbeat: I do think media is too focused on scoops. Citizens don’t care who reported a story a few minutes before everyone else.

about 13 hours ago

ruthannharnisch: One of the Harnisch Foundation’s highest values: Collaboration, not competition. “Exclusive” only lasts a moment anyway today.

about 13 hours ago

eyeseast: Scoops = Rooks. Powerful, seductive, but harder to use on a crowded board, esp. early in the game.

about 14 hours ago

bergus: Scoops, a.k.a. exclusive content, still build audiences, online and else where. Doesn’t mean not collaborating on some projects.

about 14 hours ago

Digidave: Content is King, but collaboration is Queen. In Chess king = most important, but Queen = all powerful. Scoops = anti collaboration Thoughts?

about 14 hours ago

14 thoughts on “Collaboration is Queen”

  1. The following comments got lost in the transition to wordpress:

    * Joanna Geary

    Came across your post via Paul Bradshaw. Really enjoyed it – great read.

    Whilst I don't see news organisations owned by different corporations collaborating any time soon, I think there is an opportunity for them to be reaching out and working better with the people they claim to serve.

    I love the “collaboration is queen” idea. Would you mind me using it as the tagline for my blog?


    * Gerard_Barberi

    Someone plays chess here…

    So, who are the pawns? What gets sacrificed for a story?

    And, what piece are the journalists? The knights?


    Your takedown of the scoop mentality is brilliant, but I'm not sure I agree with some of the underyling assumptions about “basic human psychology” used to dismiss competition generally. Humans collaborate but they also compete. Competition can be disastrous (war, bad scoop for exclusivity's sake, etc) but also channeled to good effect. It's true that recently scooped journalists sometimes call off the dogs and move on, but they are far more likely to call off the dogs if no one else is lurking around.

  2. Nice post David!

    To deepen the reflection, I would say we have to rethink the game itself, not only the value we attribute to the particular pieces of the actual game. Chess will always be competitive. But what can we learn about collaborative board games? Read this:

    Can we ask the actual players in the media industry to collaborate? I’m not sure. But we surely can invent a new game with new players that will all profit from their collaboration. In that game, competition would still exist but to the benefit of all. Instead of playing one against the others, we could all play together against the game.

    It’s now time to build that new game…

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