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Dailies fall down on Ward Bakery incident follow-up

The news that the Department of Buildings (DoB) had investigated the collapse of the Ward Bakery parapet on April 26 and issued violations was a scoop last Friday for the Daily News; I quickly followed up.

But where's the rest of the press? Why was it news for one publication and not another? After all, the initial incident was covered by the Times, the Daily News, the Post, NY Newsday/AM NY, Metro, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and a gamut of weeklies and blogs. Oddly enough, the New York Sun missed the story.

When work was halted a day later, the Times did a follow-up, as did the Post. More than a week later, the Daily News, alone among the Manhattan-based dailies, covered measures by the Empire State Development Corporation, said to be in process before the parapet collapse, to better monitor the situation.

The DOB's report is news; just because the Daily News got there first, doesn't the public still deserve to be informed?

Beyond the exclusive

As then-New York Times Public Editor Byron Calame wrote in March, in a column headlined Reporting the News Even When a Competitor Gets There First:
Editors at The Times are far from alone in their lack of zeal for the pursuit of even the vital scoops of competitors. It’s a tendency common to top editors in many American newsrooms, one reflected in the way Time’s Haditha exclusive was largely ignored for two months by most other publications as well.

“News organizations are habitually slow at responding to stories broken elsewhere,” Mr. Keller said.
“The easy explanation, and one that contains a good measure of truth, is pride,” he acknowledged. "Reporters (and editors) don’t enjoy being beaten.”

...“But it’s not just pride,” Mr. Keller stressed in his e-mail. There is, I agree, the nagging and legitimate question of how much a competitor’s sensitive scoop can be trusted...

In this case, the competitor's scoop was easily verifiable; while the DOB did not issue its report as a press release--which might have led to a round of simultaneous reportage--it was readily available on request after the publication of the Daily News article.

Shortchanging the readers

Calame continued:
Readers would benefit if The Times could swallow a bit of its pride and make use of two readily available approaches to dealing with the important news in the scoops of competitors.

The Web version of The Times could link more often to complete versions of vital exclusives in competing publications, such as the Post series on Walter Reed. And editors could be encouraged to use solidly reported wire stories, such as the March 20 A.P. article on the killings in Haditha, to let readers know about significant exclusives in other publications.
In February 2004, my predecessor wrote a column chiding the paper for failing to pursue the exclusives of others.

During my almost two years as public editor, I have continued to see this problem that directly affects readers. The reality is that when significant news breaks — even in the form of an exclusive in a competing publication — The Times must be committed to getting on the story. Anything less seriously damages the paper’s value to readers.

In that February 2004 column, then-Public Editor Daniel Okrent wrote:
But maybe The Times's insistence on stamping its own brand on everything it touches ends up diminishing what it delivers. If the goal of newspapering is to inform the readers and create a historical record, shouldn't the editors be telling us about everything they think is important, no matter where they find it?

The same can be said for the rest of the press. Just because the Daily News beat them to an important update on a widely-reported controversy doesn't mean they should shortchange their readers.