Believe it or not, dear reader, there was a time when journalists didn’t ‘repurpose’ content.
It was a time when stories – or content, if you’ve hung out with marketing for more than a nanosecond – were actually produced by ringing people up, meeting humans (you know, the squishy flesh balls you see in a viral clip) and writing pretty much the opposite of what a spin doctor asked you to write.
Older, saltier hacks will regale the digital imports fresh into a newsroom with tales of a pre-digital past filled with noble aims of objectivity, truth and other words that look great when they come out of the mouths of more handsome movie journalists.
The reality (grim reality if we’re to use the default clichéd construction beloved of newscasters) is a little more prosaic and if you thought Apple A – Apple C – Apple V was your friend now when copying stories, then, just like teenagers and sex, you are not the first to discover this enjoyable staple.
It’s a practice known as ripping. And it’s been beloved of night news desks and evening papers since time immemorial.
And it’s beautifully onomatopoeic, too.
Because it quite literally consists of a harried news editor tearing and ripping out sections of rival newspapers first edition stories as soon as they’ve landed in a bundle at the back doors of a newspaper office.
The moment the bundle is dragged up to the newsdesk, the splashes and page leads of other papers are torn up and distributed to reporters. Or in the case of most papers these days, a sole casual shifter unlucky enough to pull the late shift.
If you’ve ever wondered why many papers have virtually the same stories but in a different order it is not by some mysterious synchronicity but by the practice of ripping first editions.
Often the changes to a paper’s own story can be marginal. A simple quote or two added to their own version of the yarn from a person they weren’t able to get before going to print. With the liberal use of attribution these are easily spotted.
‘Hanging’s too good fer ’em,’ the victim’s father told reporters late last night.
He sure did. Just not OUR reporters. And the LATE last night is a dig by the night editor at their day colleagues for failing to get the requisite quote.
So far,so normal. Hacks will argue this is no different to hearing a quote on the broadcast news or lifting an intemperate tweet in today’s social media echo chamber.
All newspapers do it and with many deadlines for third and fourth editions barely an hour away, the turnaround can be fairly impressive when pages have to be resubbed, redesigned and resent to the print plant.
Not quite the same as update and republishing a post with a backlink.
Some newspapers will go to the trouble of attempting to track down the person quoted to check the quote before running it. Admirable, old school, and to be done where possible. You never know, you can often steal a story with this ploy by kicking it on with a denial or even more hideous reaction to a misquote. Time-consuming and sadly going out of fashion.
Alternatively, if you cannot get the principal, you go and get reaction and see if the reaction can drive the story on to such a degree that you can pass the whole farrago off as your own story by final edition. This takes a bit of committment and is deployed when your rival actually DOES have a good story. If the story has legs and will outsplash yours the next day when the world awakes, you may as well go for broke and queer the pitch with a no holds barred rip.
Night editors don’t like doing it because it means an inbox of angry emails from their daytime bosses and reporters who slaved away on a project only to see it traduced while they were asleep.
The more anti-social night editors – and this is a special species who we will return to – will get a pol corr or specialist out of bed to add weight to the story they are about to rip. This will usually consist of a bigfooting a byline and tell-tale par such as:
Ministerial sources (ie the minister’s special advisor or the Government press officer off the record) indicated that an inquiry would be launched. (Ooops, the story is true and we need to put it on the long-finger by the time breakfast radio news gets a crack at it)
So next time you’re cut and pasting the comments from reddit or the YouTube video description, aim higher. Pick up the phone and rip away.
After all, it’s tradition.
Categories: Journalese, A User's Guide