• Felicity Cowie

Do journalists always want exclusives?

Updated: Feb 18

Have you ever wondered what journalists themselves think about ‘the media’ during the story pitching process?

In fiction, journalists are frequently portrayed chasing exclusives and rushing to get them out first. And I have worked with a lot of clients who believe they need to offer something exclusively when they pitch.

But what’s less well known, outside of newsrooms, is how much of a pack mentality there is in journalism. For example, when I worked at the BBC’s main planning desk on Sundays, we would scour the newspapers for their exclusive stories which could then lead our news agenda, sometimes for a week! You might have noticed most ‘leaks’ and ‘scandals’ first come to light on a Sunday.

Every news organisation I’ve worked for has fixed meetings through the day as teams arrive. They decide on which stories to plan for, keep running, how to develop them and hand them over to the next team. And part of these meetings is always about ‘what’s in the papers?’ or ‘what’s [insert name of closest competitor] running with?’

When I was producing live television news from the gallery, I would be keeping an eye across multiple screens including those of our competitor news channels. If they broke a story, or took a new line on a story, we would know about it asap and react.

So yes, journalists and news teams do want exclusives because they want to attract audiences and, ultimately, lead the news agenda beyond their own newspaper or broadcast channel. But this is only part of the job. Deadlines do not stop. Airtime and printing presses need to be filled. So, most of the time, most journalists are working on stories which already exist and are unpacking and developing them.

This means that when you pitch a story it is often easier to pitch a fresh twist on an existing story than to present an exclusive. Offering yourself and your organisation as a different voice, which hasn’t been heard before on a ‘tried and tested’ story, can bring you media coverage rapidly.

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