Scooter Libby, Santa, and Linking

Whether you’re in retail, journalism, blogging, or an aspiring children’s folktale character, Jeff Jarvis has great advice: “Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.” Writing on his blog, BuzzMachine.com, Jarvis says that the media’s traditional institutions (newspapers, TV news, etc.) must focus their resources on creating unique content that only they can offer, rather than duplicating the work that other organizations have already done. This duplication, Jarvis says, is clearly inefficient and unnecessary. You can link to the stories that someone else did and to the rest of the world. And if you do that, it allows you to reallocate your dwindling resources to what matters… Instead of saying, “we should have that” (and replicating what is already out there) you say, “what do we do best?” That is, “what is our unique value?” It means that when you sit down to see a story that others have worked on, you should ask, “can we do it better?” If not, then link. And devote your time to what you can do better.”

Jarvis cites some examples of missed opportunities for news organizations. Firedoglake made itself the best source for coverage of the Scooter Libby Trial (all the way in 2007), and rather linking straight to it on their sites, editors at other organizations instead used Firedoglake’s information to produce duplicate reports. This was, according to Jarvis, a waste of resources on the part of the other organizations and may have deprived their readers of the chance to view better, more up to date content.

Jarvis also mentions the NYT’s coverage of Anna Nichole Smith’s death. Rather than allow other (read: crappier) outlets to report on the story, link to those outlets, and reallocate the resources to covering, say the war in Afghanistan, the Times tried to be a major contributor. Of this Jarvis says, “They added nothing more to the story. It’s not what they do best. At the least, if they felt they really needed to cover it, they should have used the AP. Online, they certainly should have just linked to the many, many other sources that are covering it.”

Blogger Jay Rosen has  similar advice for bloggers and linkers. He advocates picking a niche and owning it. Be the best at your niche and always give more. More links, more commentary, whatever. But focus on surpassing your reader’s expectations.

So where do retail and children’s folktales come into play? What Jarvis is advocating isn’t much different from what Santa Clause got Macy’s to do in the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street”. In this clip, you can see Santa telling the parents of the children who have waited in line to see him where they can find the toys the children have asked for, even when Macy’s doesn’t carry them. Initially, this upsets his supervisors, but soon Mr. Macy realizes (in this clip) that placing customer service ahead of profits will, of course, “lead to more profits”.

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