All scoops are not equal: Linking back to the source that broke the news

At Boing Boing:

MG Siegler complains that the Wall Street Journalfailed to credit him when covering a story he earlier scooped at TechCrunch: Apple Acquires Chomp.

The Wall Street Journal Is Fucking Bullshit

Earlier today, I broke some news.

I don’t typically do this anymore given my new job. But from time to time this will happen. But if you read The Wall Street Journal, you’d never know. Why’s that? Because they’re fuckheads who don’t credit actual sources of information.

Boing Boing’s Rob Beschizza says no because the WSJ reporter got the source herself, and because breaking the news doesn’t make you part of the story.

Mathew Ingram and Tim Carmody are debating this on Twitter as I type. Here’s my take…

The way I think about this is simply in terms of what we want the news ecosystem to reward, and what needs to be specially incentivized. And that’s how we decide how to create professional ethics. They’re ideally a means of furthering good journalism.

And Boing Boing correctly points out that being the first source gives you a first mover advantage and that in some cases is enough.

In my view the ecosystem already has plenty of incentive to be speedy; we don’t need to do anything extra to reward speed. What we do need to reward is journalists taking the time to uncover truly novel information that wouldn’t otherwise have become public (not that this is its only function, and not to encourage hyper-transparency, but still).

So if someone breaks the news on something that was going to be public soon anyway, I don’t see any reason to encourage a special obligation to link back, provided you can get your own source lined up, even in cases where getting that scoop took a lot of work.

For example, if you break a story about some feature on the latest iPad a day before it comes out or whatever (can you tell I don’t follow gadget news?) that might be a really big break, and it might require a lot of work, but if another reporter can subsequently get a direct source to confirm it why do we need to encourage a link to the original source? We don’t really need to go out of our way to incent that kind of coverage via professional ethics.

If, however, someone uncovers a genuinely novel item around, say, the use of drones by the U.S. government in Pakistan, where it seems possible that it wouldn’t have otherwise have become public in the near term, and where it seems likely to have taken at least some significant effort by that reporter, that’s where we should encourage a link back. Because that’s the kind of journalism we need more of.

You can plug in your own example of the kind of journalism you want to incent in the above graf and see how my theory fits for you. And again, I don’t mean this post to encourage some sort of hyper-transparency where getting new info out is just always a complete good. But I want to get beyond vague talk of “courtesy” and create a professional ethic for the digital era that attempts to promote the journalism we want, not just bolster reporters egos (and careers) based on any old scoop.

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