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Enterprise journalism is not a commodity

ABC News President David Westin hits the nail on the head with his remarks (watch video from Blip.TV here) at the McGraw-Hill Media Summit when talking about the commoditization of news. “There’s a certain amount of news information that’s a commodity. It just is,” he said, explaining that many stories are available everywhere on the web. He used the Minneapolis bridge collapse as an example. “We’re not going to win in our coverage of the bridge collapse,” he said. “Where we will win is the Representative Foley story.” Westin said you have to cover the big stories to stay in the game, but “if you have an exclusive, say an investigative story, that is worth its weight in gold.” So he tells his ABC News staff that “news may be a commodity, but reporting is not.”

Right on. This is especially interesting given my comments earlier this week asking that the Associated Press and affiliate feed services develop new models that compensate local stations and newspapers for their most popular exclusive stories. Because these stories are worth their weight in gold, but only in the narrowing “window of exclusivity” before they’re mass distributed to the online world. I believe this window is a greater benefit for the bigger national media brands, because readers still tend to gravitate to the original source despite the fact the AP version of the story has appeared everywhere else. While this is generally true inside a particular local market, TV station sites are not known beyond the confines of a particular DMA. So the window may just be few hours before traffic on the story drops off the map — and millions read and/or watch the story somewhere else.

Meanwhile, Westin’s remarks should be taken to heart by local TV news managers who are fascinated with “me too” journalism: copying stories from the newspapers and chasing their TV competition. Because if you just do the same stories as everyone else, you have no original value on the web. None. You were already beat online, and that’s where most people will soon get their local news. Getting beat on everything, day in and day out, is not a sustainable model, to say the least.

Adds Greg Miller from Kovsky & Miller Research in comments: “David Westin’s observation is on target. In countless studies of local TV newscasts we conduct, it’s obvious that enterprise journalism is one of only two distinguishing features between stations. The other being the anchors. However, with the growing interest of the public to obtain their news online, the value of anchors will diminish.”

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