If you are a budding reporter and asking yourself, “what is a journalism scoop?” Discover our guide to begin your journalism journey.
In journalism, a ‘scoop’ usually refers to an exclusive news story that is reported before other news organizations know about it. It is a news story that a single reporter or organization first breaks. A good scoop should be of interest to the public, found and worked upon by a journalist or several journalists within an organization. Most importantly, it has to be accurate and authentic.
Origins of Journalism Scoop
According to The Wall Street Journal, in journalism, the term ‘scoop’ originated from rivalries between American newspapers in the 1870s. The word ‘scoop’ originates back to the 14th century. Then, it was a verb relating to taking water or another substance from an area via a bucket or shovel. However, the term developed into slang for ‘scooping up’ winnings in poker. A ‘scoop’ was used around winning in that game. From there, it developed into a general term for besting a rival.
According to the WSJ, by 1874, the Oxford English Dictionary recorded that “scoop” referred to a newspaper besting a rival by being the first to “break” a big story. This definition was furthered in society by Evelyn Waugh’s famous 1938 novel, Scoop. Waugh, a former Daily Mail journalist, satire the profession in this work, telling the story of two fictional rival newspapers, The Beast and The Brute.
Dangers of Scoop Journalism
There is little doubt that journalism is a competitive career, with media organizations all fighting to be the first to publish the latest big story. Breaking news is a currency within media, with the 24-hour news cycle increasing the pressure on organizations to have the first images, interviews, and stories in their publications and on their sites. The very nature of scoop journalism is that reporters are hurried in their work. So, naturally, this can lead to mistakes.
Ed Garsten, a Senior Contributor at Forbes.com, discussed these potential issues in a recent interview. He said: “A huge pitfall is the current industry’s need to be first, rather than right.”
Esteemed financial journalist, Felix Salmon, is another reporter who discussed the potential downfall of journalists and media outlets whose sole focus is breaking stories. He argues that if the news is going to be broken sooner or later, the focus should be on producing quality content.
Salmon also emphasized that journalists should prioritize media ethics and fact-checking over being the first to report on a story. He said:
“Readers don’t care who broke the news: only journalists care about that… Chasing after scoops is silly — especially in the 99% of cases where the news is certain to come out soon enough anyway… It seems self-evident to me that all news organizations should decide whether or not to publish information based on the inherent quality of the content in question, and the degree to which that information serves the publication’s readers.”
Media Rivalry and Journalism Scoop
As mentioned above, scoop journalism should be about more than just ‘being first.’ However, due to competition, media outlets take notice of gaining an advantage on a scoop.
It isn’t the only form of rivalry out there, though, with much of the rivalry between media outlets in the United States now relating to advocacy journalism. This is where you have specific news organizations fitting into particular agendas and ideals that can be in contrast to other media outlets.
For instance, traditionally, Fox News, The National Review, and The American Spectator are more conservative, whereas CNN, The New York Times, and NPR are more liberal. That is not to say that this type of advocacy journalism isn’t brilliant scoop journalism.
For instance, Mark Maremont of The Wall Street Journal had an interesting scoop detailing the lavish spending done by members of The National Rifle Association (NRA) on private jets. The article concerning the group, widely known for being anti-gun law, has questioned their status and fundraising. It could be considered advocacy journalism, but it also fits into the category of scoop journalism.
It doesn’t end there; there has also been some excellent scoop reporting relating to the last Democratic and the last Republican US Presidents.
During one week, The New York Times reported that the FBI was investigating the possibility that Donald Trump was a Russian asset. The Washington Post also got the scoop that he concealed details of his encounters with Vladimir Putin.
On the other side of the political fence, The New York Post had a controversial scoop on Hunter Biden’s laptop, which was left at a computer repair shop in Delaware. The contents of Joe Biden’s son’s emails within that laptop have been called into question by many experts, particularly surrounding promises made to foreign shareholders.
Although advocacy journalism, these stories are also scoops that virtually all journalists would like to be first to break to the public. Or, at the very least, have the opportunity to investigate.
The Future of Scoop Journalism
The average person consumes far more media today than they did in the past. With the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and smartphone push notifications, this trend will likely continue. With new mediums publishing the news, there is also more competition for news organizations.
This competition has led to rivalries around who can break the news and get the latest scoop. Of course, within journalism, this has driven standards and created an atmosphere that encourages hard work and innovation.
However, the profession should also remember that it is far more essential to be correct than to be first and that the usual media ethics should be employed when working on any story. The future of scoop journalism is complex, but it is a story that is sure to break over time.
Examples of Scoop Journalism
Times journalist, Anthony Loyd, won Scoop of The Year at the British Journalism Awards for his story about an English schoolgirl who went to Syria to join Isis. The judges discussed a few of the essential elements of a scoop when giving out the award. They stated: “This was standout world exclusive that everyone would have wanted. It was a story that was so big that everyone had to follow it and one that Antony Loyd had to go out and find; it didn’t come to him.”
Another example of a scoop was when David Barstow and Alejandra Xanic von Bertrab of The New York Times reported on Wal-Mart’s use of widespread bribery to dominate the market in Mexico. This scoop won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. Every journalist would have wanted that byline. This was a brilliant scoop as their reporting showed that they knew how to spot a story, investigate it, and break it before other media outlets.
What is the difference between a scoop and a leak?
A scoop is a story investigated and broken by a reporter or news organization. At the same time, a leak is a story source, either via a person (sometimes known as a whistleblower) or a piece of data. Leaks have to be fact-checked and investigated. A scoop can be the final product from a scoop.
What does getting scooped mean in journalism?
Getting a scoop is breaking a story before your peers. Quality scoops can lead to acclaim and even awards within the journalism industry.
Interested in learning more on this topic? Check out our guide on the 5 W’s of journalism!
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