As professional journalists, we know the value of original reporting. We know there is no substitute for having our own evidence upon which to proceed. We know that what we see with our own eyes can be of immense value to the people we serve. We know that when our reporters come back with original documents and first-hand accounts, they can better relay facts directly to listeners. Original reporting allows us to own the story and lead the way.
Unfortunately, we are awash in second-hand news. Every time we cite a secondary news source, we show lack of direct ownership. Every time we rely upon a wire service story, we don’t lead — we follow. Whenever we build upon outside sourcing, we are gambling whether the foundation is solid.
All this is to say that stations who purport to be in the business of journalism had better put a premium on original reporting. To be derivative is to risk uselessness. Why should an audience come to you if you offer what they could get elsewhere?
Here are three keys to walking the walk at your local station:
- Put Original Journalism in your Mission Statement. Let it be clear to all stakeholders that your station recognizes the importance of committing to the journalistic calling.
- Invest in Editorial Staff, Training and Infrastructure. Spend what’s necessary to deliver high quality, original reporting in at least one niche that you can own. Even the smallest station can focus its editorial attention somewhere important. Minimally, it takes someone to report and someone to edit.
- March to Your Own Beat. Go for what is necessary for your community. Aim tough questions at people who are accountable. Carry out journalism that has impact. This requires courage, independence and relentless editorial leadership.
Managers outside the newsroom may not have thought very deeply on the importance of original reporting. The News Director might need to foster that conversation.
Note: This doesn’t take issue with networking and partnership as an approach to coverage. Shared ownership is better than no ownership. Nor does this suggest that we abandon our wire services and newspapers: only that we minimize duplicate coverage.