The Importance of the Reader vs. the Writer

When I went to work in the new Information Services Division of Dow Jones in 1980, I was taken on a tour of the newsroom including the area where the news wires spit out a continuous flow of information called the broad tape. I remember being told that the first responsibility a reporter had was to get information out to broad tape subscribers, regardless of the topic, because every piece of news and information had value to someone. A reporter would call in a story, which would be typed by a clerk while an editor stood over him and tore the story out of the typewriter line by line. He would make the rewrites he deemed necessary on the fly, always with the objective of getting the story out quickly and accurately. The next day, if the story was judged newsworthy, a more detailed and better written article would appear in The Wall Street Journal.

Somewhere along the line, Dow Jones seems to have moved away from that notion probably thinking that its real value lay in the findings, analysis and conclusions that would differentiate its product from every other news source. Of course in 1980, Dow Jones’ only real competition was Reuters, and to a lesser extent, the AP and UPI.

In a story in today’s New York Times, The Wall Street Journal’s new top editor, Robert Thomson, was going back to basics. The article says Thomson sent a memo to news employees reminding them that “breaking news has a value that is sometimes better recognized by our readers than our journalists.” As important as analysis is, this reinforces that in the news business, meeting the information needs of customers (as opposed to journalists) really does come first.

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