No time to think, much less be original

By · Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Poynter’s Kelly McBride has it right this week when she writes that the business is suffering an “originality failure” more than, or as much as, a plagiarism crisis. We discuss this in our book; we call it, “How to be the Idea Person.” There’s nothing better than being known as the person who comes up with interesting, original ideas for stories and projects. There is nothing worse than saying of yourself, “I can’t think of anything.” I do hear this on not-too-rare occasions from reporters working beats for class, and it alarms me.

Today, it does seem we get in trouble more — we certainly are caught more — taking others’ ideas as our own or just shading them a tiny, tiny bit. Why does that happen? No question, one reason is the culture of passing on what we find. Another is the tremendous pressure to produce often and fast. We intend to build on what others do, but we end up with little more than a copy/paste.

One thing we all realize about reporting is that it takes time. So does originality. You have to work at it, practice it. Today there is little time for that, if any. Plus, ideas come out of conversation with sources, colleagues, editors, etc. There is little time for conversation now — and fewer and fewer colleagues to have such chats with. Sadly, we were reminded of that this week in Syracuse, where The Post-Standard was said to have culled more than 100 news and ad jobs.

That was a major news story, but with The Post-Standard hardly reporting on it (three graphs), we learned little from the other local press. The other news orgs in town posted items on “what they heard,” but I couldn’t find a story on a local news site that actually quoted anyone from the newspaper on the record or pressed for an on-the-record comment about what happened and to what extent. When a local employer makes that kind of cut, and its an institution like The Post-Standard, it’s a major story.

It seems no one has time for reporting the story, much less having an original thought about it.




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