Ahoy! Botched metaphor. I know.
Loose lips might sink ships, circa 1942, but they never torpedoed any ships of journalism. To the contrary. Lip flappers, whistleblowers, gossips and media whores power and embolden entire journalism empires, causing ships to rise off of copy tides. Just look at the numbers for the Guardian empire lately. Off the charts!
Over in less high profile seas, say here down South, in today’s 1-minute news cycle there really is no such thing as a genuine “scoop” brought about by wildly exclusive information. Except when there (rarely) is, of course.
But don’t tell that to the powers-that-be at the AJC, as they’re lashing any remaining, hardworking reporter-bees left on their deck to the mast and thrashing them mightily, as punishment for having failed to sight enough scoops in their cruddy little scopes.
Two independent sources have now told me how Atlanta Journal & Constitution reporters, good ones, are being “written up” (or threatened with some type of disciplinary action) for failing to bring home the bacon fast enough. Failing to reel in genuine news “scoops.”
(“Scoops” being 100% exclusive 411 about specific, non-public events – but before the event occurs, allowing for a news organization to be first out of the gate on disseminating word of that particular news situation; to “own the story” in other words, something that’s increasingly hard to do in our hyper-connected world unless Edward Snowden or Julian Assange just happens to waltz by your office and dump raw intel on your desk. And “written up” being a documented threat by one’s superior to take away one’s job, rank, authority, paycheck and/or general livelihood should you, the super’s underling, not perform in some sort of, subjectively, better manner.)
Mark Winne at WSB-TV, for example, often gets genuine scoops about soon-to-be-made arrests by various Georgia law enforcement, and is thus frequently the first and only reporter in place for that classic, high-value video, law enforcement-enhancing moment – ye olde perp walk.
Of course it’s one of those open secrets in Atlanta old media circles that Winne’s brother is an FBI or GBI agent (I forget which agency) who tips his family member, Mark, off to lots of special events soon to happen. If that’s the case, they’ve had a lock on a good-visuals franchise for years now, and will continue at that game for as long as the gig works, I suppose.
Another longtime but notoriously over-generous news farms tipster is the ubiquitous PI-for-hire, Richard Hyde, now a Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) sitting member. But Hyde over-tips so many Atlanta reporters, all at the same time, he can hardly be relied on for a genuine scoop. He’s not all that trustworthy, in other words.
The whole matter of tip v. scoop came to a head at the AJC, so I hear, as Burrell Ellis, the elected CEO of DeKalb County Georgia, was about to be indicted for alleged crimes involving alleged withholding of contracts from folk who didn’t write checks to his, Ellis’, prior political campaign. Go look up all the allegeds; I’m not going to list them here, as that’s not what this story is about.
Seems all metro Atlanta news organizations came by their information about that one indictment in the classic slow-cooker method – via a press conference and/or a press release. In that case, one handed around to media by the folk issuing the indictment of Ellis. But that just wasn’t good enough for the AJC. No sirree!
The powers-that-be at the AJC seem to feel they were entitled to privileged and exclusive information about that particular DeKalb County indictment; thus it was up to their designated reporter(s) toiling in the DeKalb County field that day or week to bring them, on some informational silver platter, that particular indictment regarding Burrell Ellis – but way before such news was generally distributed to everyone else and their Uncle Bob.
(This behavior reminds me of the delightful scene in The Devil Wears Prada whereby the anguished assistant is ordered by her industry’s Satan to go fetch, as a test of loyalty and of Satan’s powers, a yet-to-be-published installment of the Harry Potter book series.)
One must assume they at the AJC, needing to sell more papers and subscriptions, fancied a scoop of that particular DeKalb story (as if DeKalb indictment stories were some kind of rarity) so they could then print, Tweet, march around with, tout, blog, whatever, the story. But do so in a precious, coveted space and time far ahead of anyone else in the ATL. It’s not so much about those three Cs at the AJC (credible, compelling, crafty, cumbersome, whatever) but more about trying to be first on a leaker’s to-do list.
However, seems the AJC was left wearing little more than a crappy press release and a frown. Same as all the rest of the instantly-connected world of Atlanta news personnel. Thus somebody at the AJC had to get it for not getting it sooner. And someone got “written up.” Lashed to the mast and beaten for failing to scope the entitled scoop.
As for leaks and tips that make for a lusted-over, coveted, demanded, ordered-up and now seemingly required scoop, the AJC did soon thereafter get exclusive DeKalb goodies, via a (different) story only they telegraphed to us a full two days before any “official” confirmation – the story (scoop) that murder charges previously tossed onto Andrea Sneiderman by the DeKalb County DA’s office would soon be dropped by that office.
Yeah, that was a huge deal in the Atlanta media world, to have a scoop that big and buzz-worthy, but it’s hardly fair or even reasonable that one DeKalb person’s chronically loose lips (or two people’s flapping tongues in the case of dropping Sneiderman’s murder charges) should elevate one person’s career trajectory, but lack of a loosening of the lips negatively impact the career of another.
Whisperers and tipsters are notoriously fickle and fey. They’re corrupted by knowledge only they hold. They can’t resist the urge to tell somebody all about it, and why not?! When you whisper something to a member of the press things start to happen: People start Tweeting, banging keyboards, running around doing your bidding, calling their bosses so they can stroke and be stroked, charging batteries, jumping into vehicles with logos, crashing telescopes sticking up out of vans into stuff. All hell can even break loose! Names and faces may end-up on TV. Reputations can begin. Or end. Enemies can be called forth. Put on notice. Relationships and friendships with important people, no matter how flimsy, can be imagined. Money can be made. Or imagined. Lots of action gets put into play, and you, the fearless tipster, can sit back and enjoy the show you’ve conjured, all by yourself.
Trust me, unless you’re a slithering lobbyist, being “in the media” is really that seductive. That enticing. That alluring. That corrupting even. It makes people feel important to see their name, or their client’s name, in print and their faces on TV. Even if little ‘ole blue-haired ladies at the senior home now make up the bulk of a local TV news audience.
But it’s much more than just seeing a name or a face sprinkled here and there. The real pro’s thrill lies deep within the overt manipulation of key media personnel. Knowing that you and only you can rain chaos and media down (or not) with the nod of a head or the whisper of a name. Or not. Because, of course, the master media manipulator gets to pick and choose, at whim, who’s ear they’re going to whisper into. Or who shall be, this time, withheld from.
And that’s where things get just downright unfair… on the other end. As punishing someone because a weasel chose NOT to squawk into a reporter’s ear hardly seems right. Or remotely productive. Rather, it would merely create a wildly demoralized work environment.
Demanding scoops out of reporters can only escalate and reward craven pressures and temptations on people who should be keeping their traps shut in the first place. (And yes, word is there’s a hunt on at the DeKalb County DA’s office for their own special leakers. Contact your local NSA branch operative for assistance.) And can do little more to a decent, already very hardworking reporter than poison an otherwise good mind. Besides, the chances for a perceived scoop to backfire (turn out to be wrong) are just as great as the chances of it turning out to be right.
But forget doing things unfairly, as that’s rarely considered anyway. Not if money is the ultimate goal. Assuming selling papers and subscriptions to the AJC is the intended outcome of having a 49-hour-long scoop about a DA dropping murder charges everyone was kinda sorta speculating were going to get dropped anyway, was then a boatload of money hauled-in by Cox from that one scoop?
I dunno. Go ask Kevin Riley.