Exclusive! The breaking news problem

Ethan Kaplan of blackrimglasses, the Warner Music Group technology shaman and all-around smart guy, has a great post up about the pile-on effect that we all see from time to time on Techmeme, as well as a related problem: the incessant desire for “scoops” and “exclusives” that companies use to play blogs off against each other — using embargos and other cheap parlour tricks to get blogs to parrot whatever marketing slogan happens to come down the pike.

I know that Mike Arrington at TechCrunch and Pete Cashmore at Mashable try hard not to get sucked into that vortex, and I’m sure that Richard MacManus and the gang at Read/Write Web do too, but it’s hard when everyone wants to be first. As Mike said at our mesh conference in May, being first is easier — if you’re not first, then you have to try harder to add value somehow. If you’re first, well… you’re first.

The problem, as Ethan describes in his own inimitable fashion, is that being first hardly matters any more. It’s not like anyone is going to be first for more than a second or two, and then the great tsunami of coverage will descend on the subject until it is obliterated beneath a pile of Techmeme.com posts. As Ethan says:

“It’s like is holding back an immense amount of water pressure then releasing it. In the end, can you tell who the first drop to hit you was? No. You only know that you are wet and uncomfortable.”

Well said. It’s unlikely we will ever get rid of the desire to be first — I think it’s one of the most primal desires of the journalist (and in using that term I include bloggers) — but I hope that more and more people will choose to focus on the issues that need to be talked about, instead of just the latest release of a Facebook/Google/MySpace widget that aggregates Web 2.0 social bookmarking spreadsheets or whatever.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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