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Beacon blog: Scoops are sophomoric

One of the most important principles the St. Louis Beacon rests upon -- if not the most important principle -- is fairness. It is naive to believe we always bat a thousand in the fairness effort. Nevertheless, when the founders set about organizing this publication several years ago, fairness was very much on our minds, and 100 percent was a goal for which we would to strive.

An enormous impediment to achieving fairness in our business is the pressure to beat the guy down the street. The "scoop" is what we call it, and in our tattered army's vocabulary, scoop's the synonym for Victory.

I have never quite understood the passion for scooping the competition, and while I suppose the first Joseph Pulitzer, whom I venerate, would sneer at my indifference to scoops, I remain indifferent to scoops. In spite of apostates such as me, the urge to scoop the other guy is a fundamental operating principle newsrooms, and it slops over into every department.

I have watched perfectly intelligent editors go apoplectic at being scooped on a story about an automobile accident or some petty criminal's arrest. I also have witnessed an editor's veins popping out of his forehead because the features department "missed" a story about something as epic as the opening of a new restaurant. I have been in attendance (and guilty, too) at the embarrassing occasion of having to commit an act of contrition known as the corrections -- simply because of jumping the gun, simply to get a scoop.

I am far more concerned with digging for that elusive quality Truth than I am in being first. I make no apologies. Scoops are sophomoric. Although I admit I rejoice in the Beacon's scooping someone or another, and commend my colleague for his or her victory, in the long run, in the column where one registers what is genuinely important, I am infinitely more concerned with depth, context, authority, good, craftspersonly writing and -- as the first Joseph and the two Joseph Pulitzers after him emphasized -- "accuracy, accuracy, accuracy," than I am with such ephemeral victories as scoops.

There is a certain quaint "Front Page" quality to the scoop, and its journalistic ancestry endows it with an appearance of innocence. Innocent, however, the scoop is not. It is the loathsome parent of the current epidemic of a disgraceful brand of journalistic mischief, the sort of mischief that obtained in the case of Shirley Sherrod's shameful pillorying in regard to her speech to the NAACP, and parent too to the inextricable quicksand we are in, thanks to the disingenuous, dishonest reporting about the Islamic center in New York.

In each of those situations, being first meant being egregiously, immorally wrong. And, quite honestly, that makes me sick.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.