Sunday, June 04, 2006

Could less competition be better?

Amy Graham has a post over at Poynter that dares to suggest there might be something to the agrument that competition isn't always the best thing for media.

At first blush the argument is anathema to those of us weaned on the ethic and exhilaration of completive newsrooms. I know for certain that the desire to kick the ass of whoever was covering my beat for the rival Anchorage Times motivated me more often than any deep, selfless desire to serve the public good. It kept me at the desk and on the phone late, steeled my nerves to knock on strange doors, made me double and triple check the factoids.

But Amy and others whose arguments she incorporates make some telling points. Could it be that times and circumstances have changed so much that we need to rethink the truism?

In an age of blogs and 24-hour cable and instantaneous updates on dozens of media websites, does it make sense for everybody to staff the daily White House briefing? How important is it for journalists from half our papers to staff the Super Bowl? Is your art director’s take on the Oscar preview page really that much better than the half-dozen others you could use from somebody else?

Suppose you could take the resources you’d save by skipping all that and devote them to something unique, particular and compelling? An investigation into college recruiting in your town, rather than game stories from every road trip of the Anytown Warriors; a unique graphic explanation of a controversial area shopping mall proposal, rather than that generic Oscar page; a close look at Pentagon procurement practices by Congressional district instead of a story that matches what the NYT, LAT, AP and Reuters all had from the briefing?

As we start to integrate 32 papers into the new McClatchy, these questions will become more sharply framed. Think about what you could do to optimize the resources in your newsroom by using something produced by a cousin. Think about what you can contribute to help them.

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer here. But I am betting we will find more and more occasions where these questions matter.
– Howard Weaver

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