Digital First is not just a race

21 Aug

by Hugh Martin

In 2004 the night before the opening of the Athens Olympics, two Greek athletes Costas Kenteris and Katerina Thanou were forced to withdraw from the Games after missing a doping test. It was a huge story at the time as the two were major medal hopes for the host country.

That night a bunch of Fairfax journalists were having dinner at a restaurant in the Plaka, within sight of the Parthenon, getting ready for a fortnight of olympic reporting.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s then gun reporter, Jacquelin Magnay, happened to mention to the online editor that she had got hold of the Greek athlete story ahead of her international competition and was planning on sending it to the Herald’s newsdesk when she got back to the hotel after dinner.

The online editor convinced her that the story wouldn’t hold and that it would be all over the web within no time if they didn’t get it out immediately. Magnay agreed, and together they telephoned the news editor of theage.com.au. It was 3am in Melbourne when they woke the news editor. He rolled out of bed, turned on his computer and took Magnay’s copy over the phone writing it straight on to theage.com.au and smh.com.au web sites.

Within minutes the story had hit the wires and ricocheted around the world. But Fairfax had already published.

Fast forward eight years to Adelaide 2012. As Media Watch reported last night, last week Adelaide Advertiser crime reporter Nigel Hunt had a genuine scoop about fraud in the South Australian Victim of Crime fund.

In the intervening eight years since the Athens Olympics “Digital First” has become the war cry in newsrooms around Australia (instead of merely the pleadings of online desperados).

Now there is no question of “holding stories for the paper”. But choosing the best time to publish, calculating when is the right time to maximise the exposure of a genuine exclusive – that is still an art.

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