Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

Two Minute Tips

When you get scooped

October 10, 2013

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You will. Even the most diligent beat reporter will open up Twitter or a competing publication and Web site and see that she has been beaten on a story. Let’s walk through a quick triage to respond.

Assessment:

How big a story is this rival scoop? Is it accurate? Is it being picked up elsewhere and being retweeted. Is it moving the company’s stock price? If the answer is “yes” to most of these questions, you can’t just move on.

Response:

OK, you got your butt kicked on an important piece of news. What next?

1. Log it in? Sometimes this is the most efficient way to handle it. Either write it up as a short or, better yet, use wires. But this is only excusable if you are already working on an important scoop of your own. It shouldn’t used as a defeatist or denialist move (“Crap, beaten again!”).

2. Come back better. Here, the reporter takes the story, advancing and deepening it far beyond the original report.

— Add context and synthesize the information into something better.

— Maybe the original report had flaws; this is your chance to get it right. Fill in the gaps that are inevitable when the scooping reporter is moving fast to beat you.

— What are the wider competitive implications for the company, employees, vendors, the supply chain and rivals?

— Add the history and personalities that you know better than the competitor. Go for the exclusive interview with a key newsmaker.

— If it’s a big story and you work at a place with resources, unleash the multi-media: Maps, interactive graphics, video, etc.

3. Somewhere in your story, give credit to the outlet that first published the news. Stay classy.

Post-mortem:

Here’s where you should make a quick appraisal of why you were scooped on this story. If there are things you can fix — adding sources, more aggressively working the phones and emails, reading the analyst call transcripts, checking court or building permit records — do so. It’s not hard to figure out how somebody got a story.

Evaluate your time and beat management. Were you beaten because you were spending too much time on low-payoff assignments or research, or in (gah) in-house meetings.

Still, you probably can never beat the New York Times or Wall Street Journal on a deal story handed to them by lawyers and bankers in Manhattan. That’s not a call for not trying, Especially skilled business writers can find a way. But it is a tough battle.

Business news originates at more places than ever before. We’re way past the days when the big metro daily could say, “It’s not news until we report it.” But it’s counterproductive to spend much time chasing your tail on many stories that have already been reported.

Ideally, you want to set a news agenda that is so exclusive, compelling and fast-moving that the competition has to follow you — or is reduced to picking the crumbs while you serve readers the choicest dishes. But don’t be afraid to come back after being scooped and make your story even better.

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