Over the course of my career I’ve broken a good deal of stories. They range from the very local to ones that have gotten into the national spotlight. And I’m very proud of having broken those stories and being ahead of the competition.
But in today’s age on the web with social media and the rate of publishing being so much faster, breaking a story has become a bit trivial. You may break a story, but the competition and everyone else is going to be on your heels. And in the end, no one really remembers who broke the story except for the media types involved with it.
In fact, a survey released a few months ago shows people don’t care about who broke the story. The two things they care about the most are if they can trust the news organization and if it provides in-depth analysis.
On the point of being trustworthy, I always remember what an editor at The Hour told us once about it. The public’s trust is like your virginity — once you lose it, you can never get it back. It’s why it’s always important to me to gain the trust of the public in anything I do.
As for in-depth analysis, a news agency needs to think past breaking the story. They need to think what’s next? What other coverage are they going to provide?
Both being trustworthy and providing that analysis is what I like to call owning the story. People won’t remember if you broke the story, but they’ll remember if you owned it because they’ll be reading and watching everything you produce about it.
I think we all can remember a story that we “owned” at some point in our careers. I’ve had a few. Back in 2006 and 2007, there was a house with architectural significance — it was designed by Paul Rudolph — in Westport that was going to be demolished. There was a fight between preservationists and the owners, and I tried to be there at every step. I sat through court hearings. I talked to everyone involved. I was the only one at one point the owner would speak to. In fact, when the house was eventually demolished, our photographer was the only one allowed on the property because of how we had treated the story. And then there was Millburn High School’s hazing incident in 2010, which caught national attention. I took a lot of heat from the community, but it was clear they were reading and coming back for more.
If people trust you to bring them the best information and you give them the analysis they crave, they’re going to keep coming back for more on the story. That’s owning it. But it also creates a relationship with your audience. They’re going to keep coming back for more not only on the one story but on others.
It’s like the difference between going viral on a story and engaging well through social media. If you go viral, those readers helicopter in to read the story or view the video. If you are engaged with your audience, though, they’re going to keep coming back for more.
No one is going to remember who broke the story. They’ll look at the story and be done when it breaks. But if you own the story, they’ll keep coming back and engaging with you.