Competition has led humanity to outstanding achievements. The USA raced against the Soviet Union to the moon. Athletes strive to shave off milliseconds to beat their competitors, providing thrilling entertainment.
I'm not against competition. However, in the business context, we often get it wrong, I think.
In every medium or large media company I've worked for so far, I've observed a specific behaviour: an almost obsessive focus on the competitors.
There are good reasons to check the stories of other newspapers. Journalism is a complex network of information gathering. Every journalist is contributing to paint a fuller picture. And it would be undoubtedly valid to ask: "Newspaper X wrote about issue Z. Is there another aspect of Z that we can cover?"
Practically, there's more copy and paste involved. A substantial amount of resources go into writing off competitors' stories. Partly, because it's a cheap way to fill your platform with content. Partly because newsrooms are terrified of not reporting something.
Here, a vicious cycle shows:
- Media companies lose ad revenue and lay off journalists.
- The remaining journalists struggle to keep the same amount of information flowing.
- As original reporting takes more time and money, the copying starts, and it feels like every news platform is reporting the same.
- The audience is unhappy and loses trust, creating an even more dire situation for the newsrooms.
The cycle is well-known, at least amongst media scientists, educators, and journalists themselves. "Do what you do best and link to the rest," said journalism professor Jeff Jarvis back in 2009 while describing his vision for the future of journalism.
And if you take the textbook definition of journalism, the lack of diversity is already a huge problem.
However, there's a second aspect impacted by the focus on competitors: product development.