The truth about scoops

In the wake of Motorola-Google deal, Felix Salmon, one of the finest bloggers in New York, penned a piece, Whither the M&A Scoop? Felix points out that “scoops are the most basic currency of business journalism” and they are what helped folks like Andrew Ross Sorkin become media “brand names” who then go on to do bigger things. He also points out that, more often than not, news is leaked to a handful of select reporters — ones that are likely to have the maximum impact by publishing the news, getting on CNBC and getting news wires rereporting it.

In the age of blogs, it is the one with the ability to create instant amplification of the original news that is the chosen outlet. No surprise that you see news break on sites like  Politico more often. And why gadget news first shows up on Engadget.

Today, news jumps from blogs to television to traditional news outlets with the same regularity as it does in the opposite direction. This is part of the industry upheaval due to democratization of distribution. This subtle but harsh reality might have helped Google decide to go straight to its own blog with the Motorola news. It seems Larry Page decided not to play favorites with any media outlet and instead posted the news on the Google blog.

I give Page full kudos for doing this — I think this is the best business practice and all companies should follow it. I remember visiting Google’s offices and meeting with the communications team and making them understand that for a company that owns Blogger and YouTube, they needed to start using those tools and be the change they wanted to see. And nothing comes bigger!

On the flip side, Google also gets a lot of incoming links, which is important for the official news of the deal to show up when someone searches on Google for “Google Buys Motorola.” Ironically, right now if I conduct that search, Larry Page’s blog post is below a post on Mashable. The fact that the original comes after what is essentially a regurgitated blog post is symptomatic of the slow degradation of Google Search — which at times feels much like driving over the always-under-construction streets of San Francisco.

What’s the scoop?

But back to the idea of scoops and Salmon’s assertion. I think there is an element of truth to it. What is also important for us to remember is that the idea of a scoop today is much different from the idea of a scoop ten years ago. Today, the news — and scoops — are more a process than one big news release. The process means someone first breaks what is essentially a tiny component of the story, and pretty quickly the whole picture becomes clear, as other reporters and media outlets join in. Now you must be wondering – isn’t that how things are always done? Yes, but earlier there were fewer outlets and the metabolism of news was slower.

Today, this happens in almost real-time, thanks to the growing presence of online publications and a sharp increase in independent voices. I would say that the process of breaking news is becoming more democratic than ever before, but it is also a lot more difficult.

I for one, welcome the change. As a young reporter trying to make a go of it, I was always competing with large giants like the Wall Street Journal who were the preferred choice of news leakers. The same went for other big publications. On the other hand, I had to earn my scoops the old-fashioned way: by building contacts, establishing relationships and knowing my beat as best as humanly possible — and then working the beat 24-7. So when I did score a scoop — and I did land quite a few for — it was a delicious feeling.

Pre-announcing Sun’s launch of its Corona (net-PC) was one of those stories that drove the Sun PR machine into a tizzy. Or National Semiconductor’s decision to sell off Cyrix. There were a few others along the way as well, such as Yahoo buying Flickr and Six Apart buying Live Journal. More recently I have had a few including Microsoft-Skype and Microsoft’s involvement in the Google and Motorola deal.

But as the size of the blogosphere grows, chasing the scoop becomes much more harder. There are just too many good reporters out there, and they have ability to find and post the first hint of a scoop at a lightening speed. Getting the scoop is only going to get harder, and in the end, it will kill the traditional scoop.

The amplification effect, however, has its downsides. One mistake in reporting, and it reverberates around the web and onto the traditional non-Internet media outlets. And if the news involves publicly traded companies, it can have a major impact on the stock prices or even the direction of the economy. That’s the reality of media today.