News competition for the ‘scoop’ hurts thoughtful news coverage

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Television news is a powerful medium that dominates the news market.

I have never worked in television news, and I have no plans to do so, but in one of my first newspaper jobs — during the early 1960s — I worked as a reporter for the Alabama  Journal, which was for years Montgomery’s afternoon newspaper.

In a sense, the Journal was in direct competition with Montgomery’s WSFA-TV channel 12.

Every morning we would make the runs on our beats — the Governor’s Office, the State Legislature, state and federal, state and local courts, state troopers, Montgomery police, Sheriff’s office, all the state agencies and on and on.

Obviously, WSFA had the largest news audience in the evening. There was nothing we could do about that, but the idea was to keep up with the TV dudes, and in some cases try to ask a question that would give the newspaper story an edge over the television story.

This was the case in cities across the state and the nation in the competition among newspapers, radio and television stations, or whatever the day might bring in terms of news.

Within this competitive circle, strange things would happen. One day in Montgomery, Clint Eastwood, who at the time was playing  in a TV western titled “Rawhide,” dropped by the Journal office as a part of his visit to Montgomery.

A Journal reporter did a celebrity profile on Eastwood that scooped Channel 12’s news effort for that day because, for some reason, Eastwood’s visit downtown did not attract any TV coverage.

This scoop business was a big deal to the business side of news and TV coverage. Whoever got the “scoop” supposedly ruled the day. I found this to be the case in other cities where I worked — Birmingham and Milwaukee.

Newspaper circulation and TV ratings are what it’s all about. If media executives could concentrate more on better news questions instead of the scoop of the day, the public would be better served.

Of course, what newspapers and TV executives have to do every day is tend to the scoops and worry about better news coverage later.

And now with the cost of newspaper production going up, I think there is less time for a mature watchful mind to be a part of the coverage instead of the mind of the scoopers.

We have mature and thoughtful reporters who go to work every day, and they could do a better job if they did not have to worry about the scoop.

Gillis Morgan is an associate professor emeritus of journalism at Auburn University and an award-winning columnist. He can be reached at morgarg7@aol.com

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