Strong opinions, weakly held

The two ways to break news

Matthew Yglesias on the two ways to break news:

But there are really two ways to break news. A Type 1 scoop is a story that if you don’t break, just won’t be broken. A Type 2 scoop is a pure race for priority. You get Type 2 scoops by becoming the favored destination for deliberate leaks, or by ferreting out information that will be officially announced soon enough (Joe Biden will be Obama’s VP pick!), or by chasing down an obvious-but-arduous-to-follow lead. These Type 2 scoops are structurally similar to “breaking news” but they don’t have any real value.

There is a huge focus on Type 2 news not only in political journalism, but also in tech journalism, and it’s totally worthless. You see popular Web sites racing to have the most detailed live coverage of a keynote address by Steve Jobs, even though the video will be online shortly thereafter, and the key points from the event will be capably summarized everywhere. You see it when pundits predict what Steve Jobs is going to announce in a keynote the day before the keynote.

The fact that journalists care at all about breaking stories in the Type 2 fashion is at the heart of the decay of the profession.


  1. As often, the demand-side perspective is useful here. Don’t wag your finger at the journalists. Look at their customers.

  2. I think that’s good advice under normal conditions, but when it comes to this phenomenon, I think it’s all about the journalists themselves. The vast majority of people do not get news as soon as it breaks, nor do they care about getting it as soon as it breaks. Political writers care that Mike Allen gets stories a few hours before everyone else, but do people who read newspapers or watch the news? I don’t think so. Do many people care whether Engadget or Gizmodo breaks a particular story first? Maybe, but I doubt it.

  3. The problem of course is that big Type 2 news really doesn’t need anything except Twitter.

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