Thursday, August 28, 2008

B2B blogger scoops world on Biden pick

I'm feeling a wee bit proud today. Heck, I think everyone in B2B journalism should be feeling a little proud today. Particularly those of us who live and work in the B2B blogosphere.
As Adam Tinworth has pointed out, perhaps the biggest news story on earth last week was broken by a B2B blogger.
According to Adam, Reed Business Information's Flightblogger was the first with the news that Barak Obama had chosen Joe Biden as his running mate. And he broke the news through Twitter and with the help of his readers. If that's not an example of how to report in 2008 -- fast, first, connected, Web-first and employing tweets and crowdsourcing -- I don't know what is.

Now according to Adam, others in the blogosphere picked up the story and ran with it. And, according to Flightblogger Jon Ostrower, other bloggers, as well as the news networks, failed to credit him for the scoop.

It's worth noting that if, in fact, Jon was the first with the news (on 8/22 at 5:33 pm and 8:03 pm), then he only has himself to blame for not getting more attention. His posts are, well, sort of vague. Even he uses the word "speculation" to describe his findings. More importantly, he buries the lede. The "news" is at the bottom of continually updated post. And you have to read pretty closely to see that he's actually on to something important. Even the headline is lackluster -- "Presidential Picks and Planes." His tweets are no better. At 8:22 pm he writes that he "may" have the story: "NetJets 863 MDW-ILG may point to Biden as Obama VP. Look for a return flight."

But I don't want to get all nitpicky here. It looks like Jon broke the news. And that's worth celebrating if you care about news and B2B.

Jon's scoop is particularly good news if you're me.
Because several years ago I had the pleasure of speaking to a bunch of RBI journalists about "becoming more blog-like" -- by adopting some of the practices of the blogosphere in their work. I think it's safe to say that the reaction I received from some of the staff was a wee bit short of love and adulation. In particular, I remember one guy who promised me "we will never do that s*#t here."
And today I can say for sure that I was right when I responded, "Yes you will."

For a different take on this subject, check out the strange coverage from L.A. Times, which missed Jon's work, fails to credit anyone in the blogosphere, and instead seems gleeful that Obama's text-notification system failed. Or check out this piece from a student journalist who is positively disgusted by CNN's apparent lack of original reporting on the Biden pick.

(Note: B2B blog historians, if there are such people, may be amused to see that the first time I wrote about B2B blogs and the airline industry was three years ago this summer. I guess that means its probably time to drop the modifier "new" from the phrase "new media.")

Hat tip to Kristine Lowe, the newest B2B blogger on my radar screen. Although I subscribe to Adam's feed, and although I look at Flightblogger from time to time, I'm days behind in my reading and was unaware of Jon's scoop until I read about it on Kristine's blog. (Anyone who knows me and my enormous ego will guess correctly that I stumbled upon Kristine's blog because she linked to me and mentioned me by name. That triggered a Google alert in my in-box this morning.)

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  1. I am not convinced that scoops have a lot of value for trade readers though. Being timely is one thing, but isn't going after scoops mostly insider baseball for news organizations?

  2. Hi Olivier,
    Scoops don't have a lot of value for any reader -- B2B, B2C or anything else. But they do have tremendous value to reporters. And that's the primary reason to celebrate them. They're good for morale. And if we don't accept and celebrate the things that reporters value, we won't have much luck attracting talented reporters.
    Also, in the present economy, when so many reporters are facing so many pressures, it's good to celebrate those things that bring joy to the folks in the trenches.
    Scoops are also the easiest way to track the vague concept of "timely." If the goal is to be first, you'll wind up being timely. If the goal is to be timely, odds are you'll be late.
    More importantly, scoops are good for the brand (particularly in very competitive areas like 24-hour TV news.)
    In B2B, that can be an important part of the story for ad sales staff, etc. Everyone in B2B likes to say that they compete on "quality." But that's a subjective measure (also, the dark secret is that much of what we do in B2B couldn't be considered "quality" journalism by anyone other than our mothers.) But objective measurements cannot be argued with: page views, scoops, registered users, etc.
    I'd rather say "I work for a publication with 11,000 registered users with C-level jobs. And we broke the two biggest stories of the year in the industry," than to say "I work for a publication that is really great and does high-quality work and lots of people read it and it's timely."
    Also -- this blog is about as "inside baseball" as can be. This blog, as it says at the top, is "for those who toil in the most specialized, and perhaps the least glamorous, area in the press -- trade journalism." It's for the people who work in B2B, not for the people who read B2B. So if we can't celebrate such inside baseball topics as scoops here, where can we celebrate them.

  3. Paul, sorry if my terse comment sounded like I meant to rain on your parade. Not my intent, and you made very good points in your reply. I was really just musing about the outcome, and whether what editors value is aligned with what their readers seek. It just happens I had a recent discussion on scoops vs. being "just timely" with one of our editors - my quick comment was a reflection of that, not a criticism of your post.

    From recent research I've done with Google Trends in one of the sectors where we're active, the sites that do focus on breaking scoops about companies in said sector don't actually seem to engage the professionals working in that industry. At least they have zero audience overlap with the trade press covering the sector (while trade publications in the sector do overlap with each other to some extent) while the "scoop" sites strongly overlap with each other. The scooped information most often has no material impact on a professional's job ("so Yahoo has a boardroom fight. And this impacts my job as a search marketer because?").

    In other words, I'm not seeing the scoop-centered sites getting traction with our audiences, so I guess as a publisher it makes it harder for me to value scoops per se. Your morale argument is interesting in its own right, which I have to admit is an angle I hadn't considered much - this probably tells something about myself that I have to ponder.

  4. Hi Olivier,
    No problem. No offense was taken. My parade does not feel rained upon.

  5. Seems to me Jon's only offence was not to proclaim news until he had confirmed its accuracy; he correctly identified his own speculation and provided information that supported his conjecture. Only with hindsight can any scoop be so identified.
    (At least Jon had a real time outlet for his story: last November I believe I was the first reporter to get the numbers for what became the biggest-ever airline order in history when it was unveiled later that day, but I was working for a daily print publication that did not post news online ahead of print publication the following day. Even our related TV broadcast was uploaded only after close of business: somewhere there is TV footage of me telling my news editor we were the only people in the world to have the story...)
    Certainly Jon's main point - that the NetJets flight might indicate Biden's selection - could have been at the top of the story, but it would have been no less speculative for that.

  6. Hi Pundit,
    I understand what you're saying. And, to a degree, I agree.
    The question here is whether or not Jon did, in fact, have the story. In his post, Adam suggests that Jon had this nailed.
    My understanding of the role of airplanes in political campaigns is pretty limited. So I'm certainly not the one to make the final call. But it seems to me too that Jon had it nailed.
    But Jon's writing -- the words in the post, rather than the facts -- suggest otherwise.
    What was needed in this situation is what is often needed in such situations -- a senior editor of some type to make the call. All of us have been in situations like this. Some of us have been on both sides of such situations.
    And anyone who has worked in a newsroom knows that as Jon posted to his blog, someone should have been pushing him with questions like this:
    "Do you have this?"
    "What do you know and what are you guessing at?"
    "Have you nailed this?"
    "I'll back you on this. Just tell me if you have this story or not."
    My guess -- and it's only a guess -- is that Jon did not have anyone like that looking over his shoulder. And that's a pity. Because my guess -- and it's only a guess -- is that Jon really did have this story nailed. And his use of words like "speculation" reflected insecurity rather than any weaknesses in the reporting.