Thursday, June 6, 2013

Morning Brief: The Guardian scores huge scoop, forcing major U.S. newspapers to have to figure out how to report a new rival's big story, regional metros fail to react

Late yesterday late afternoon (depending on where you live, I suppose) The Guardian's investment in bringing on Glenn Greenwald paid off in a huge way. The American journalist and former columnist had joined The Guardian in August of last year, and until yesterday his contributions to his new employer had been mostly in the form of columns.

But yesterday Greenwald reported that the "National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April."

"Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered," Greenwald wrote.

"The disclosure is likely to reignite longstanding debates in the US over the proper extent of the government's domestic spying powers."

The story immediately was placed at the top of all editions of The Guardian's website – including its new Australian edition.

For the purposes of this website, what is of interest was the way the major U.S. newspapers dealt with the story after its first appearance.

Glenn Greenwald
The Washington Post immediately reported the big scoop, creating Greenwald right up front and linking to the story directly. The Post's treatment was pretty magnanimous, and initially their headline read "Report: Verizon providing all call records to US under court order" which both serves to tell readers that the paper is simply reporting what another news outlet is reporting, and to more directly give that outlet credit. Later the WaPo dropped the work "Report" as it updated the story.

The New York Times, as is its custom, did not immediately jump at the story. But while it eventually placed the story on the front of its website, it buried the story this morning on page 16 of the print edition. (To be fair, The Guardian story was released at a time which probably prevented both papers from having much time to remake up their front pages, though the WaPo did manage to place it there).

Some have argued that as time passes fewer and fewer readers will flock to local metro papers because of their inability to deliver national news and because major papers such as the NYT and WaPo are easily accessible via the web. This story is a big test of that theory, would the Tribune Company papers, for instance, respond in the same way as the Post by leading with the story? The answer, sadly, is no. Both the L.A. Times, which had plenty of time to respond, and the Chicago Tribune are far behind on the story, not even writing an aggregated story for their websites. The Dallas Morning News picked up the WaPo story, while the Boston Globe naturally went with the NYT's story.