Jeff Jarvis once told me and several colleagues “focus on what you do best and link to the rest.” It’s something he’s often repeated, and I’ve repeated it myself many times since then. And there lies the foundation of how I feel it’s important to be complementary in today’s news world.
I think every good journalist has a competitive gene. We all want to be the ones with the best stories and be a source so no one has to go anywhere else. But the reality is in today’s world is we can’t cover everything. And my view on what is important to cover may be different than what another publication is important to cover.
Back when I was at Patch, I was competing with plenty of other publications. In Millburn, N.J. there were the two weekly newspapers, the Alternative Press online. At the time the New York Times also had an online local project in the community (which was then passed along to Baristanet). We all were covering the same town, and there’s a limit on the number of stories you can do.
But the personalities of the editors and our interests also dictates how we attacked things. I used my skills as a real-time reporter to be the go-to place for police and fire coverage. The ease of the web also gave me the chance to live cover important school board meetings or to have those stories up very quickly. But the other publications had strengths too. The Item covered stories intently that I didn’t have the sources to do so. Plus they have an active letters to the editor page, which I never could have.
And even if they had a story I would normally cover, I would build off of what they were doing. I’d aggregate their story, but I’d use it as a launching off point for my own coverage. How could I be different than what they are already providing?
Everyone wants to be the go-to source for news and information, but we all work in crowded ecosystems. It’s good to play to your strengths and complement what else is out there.
That doesn’t mean you’re not going to compete for stories and also revenue. But the same could be said for revenue. What sorts of opportunities can you create for revenue that others can’t provide? How can you complement the opportunities others already provide?
Maybe I’m an idealist and maybe I was lucky in that I didn’t have a combative relationship with the other publications. We all got along and respected each other. And I think part of it is we grew to realize we could complement each other’s coverage.