Exclusive Survey on Exclusives Highlights Exclusive Blog Post

fox exclusiveThe topic of “exclusive” interviews is one that I’ve been watching for some time. It’s an example of how journalists and PR professionals have lost the meaning of a word – and a potentially valuable tactic.

Survey says media consumers don’t think more favorably about media outlets that tout exclusives and don’t make their media choices based on the number of exclusives promoted.

The general understanding is that an exclusive interview is one that’s given only to one reporter or media outlet. But so many media outlets tout their “exclusive” interviews, with everyone from President Obama to the latest Real Housewife, that I think that meaning has been lost. (Somehow I doubt that the President gives anyone exclusive interviews on any topic.)

Any Google search on the term “exclusive” comes back with a definition along the lines of “not shared, available to only one person or group,” or “not published or broadcast elsewhere.”

The Daily Beast weighed in on this topic. It’s from 2013, but worth a read. The writer says the word “exclusive” should only be used “when an interview subject submits to questioning by your news organization and no other, often on a specific topic.” http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/02/01/exclusive-the-words-that-journalists-overuse.html

I’ve asked reporters about this and some have said, “well, it was an exclusive story when I wrote it.” That doesn’t seem to work for me. I think the difference is 1) intent and 2) expectation.

1. Did the person who gave the “exclusive” plan all along to give it to other outlets within minutes or hours?
2. Did the journalist have the expectation that no other media outlet was going to get an interview with that person or about this specific topic?

In my experience (30 years of working with local and national media), when you give one or more reporters a story first, before its general release date/time, that’s called an advance (or a “first” if it’s going just to one reporter). I’m always very clear when I offer an advance, telling the reporter when it’ll be released to other media.

Reporters often call their interviews “exclusives” just because they got it on air first. It’s common on online stories, but I never see them go back and remove the “exclusive” graphic when another outlet gets an interview as well.

oprah armstrongSo what’s an example of a real exclusive? The best example I’ve seen in recent years is Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey.
1. Armstrong did an extensive, multi-hour, taped interview only with Oprah talking about his doping allegations.
2. He did NO other interviews on this subject around that time. (I’m not 100% sure if he did any other interviews later, but I don’t think he did.)
3. When the Oprah interview aired, all other media did stories about Armstrong citing Oprah’s interview as the source of their information.

Sometimes an interview really is an exclusive, but a weak one. A network interviewing the star of one of its own shows to promote their new season or a reporter writing a very specific topic that no other reporter would ever write about. Yes, it’s exclusive, but it’s perhaps an overly dramatic use of the term.

The next question might be, why do an exclusive interview?
• It might be because it’s a sensitive topic that you don’t want to talk about with 1,000 reporters. (See Oprah/Armstrong)
• A person or company might choose a reporter who they feel will give them a more sympathetic story.

Honestly, we’ve hardly ever offered them. If you’ve got a great story, then media will be interested. If it’s not a good story, it’s your job to either find a way to make it more appealing or tell your client that it’s not as big as they think.

But it’s not just about what I think. I wanted to see how the general public defined “exclusives,” so we ran a short SurveyMonkey survey on the subject. About 100 people responded. Yeah, it’s not “scientific,” but it’s a pretty good sample size and useful for this conversation.

Here’s what we found:

How would you define an “exclusive” interview?
• 57% – A story is reported in only one media outlet / Only one outlet gets the interview
• 27% – One media outlet gets an interview before all others
• 7% – A media outlet has the story before all others
• 0% – All the media have the story at the same time

Do you form a more favorable opinion of a media outlet if they have an exclusive interview?
• 33% – Yes
• 58% – No

Do you choose your media outlets base on the frequency of their exclusives?

• 5% – Yes
• 86% – No

Survey Conclusions: It seems most people understand the definition … and that a majority don’t like a media outlet any more or less just because they tout an exclusive. Finally, most don’t choose where they get their news based on how often they get exclusives.

Continue the Conversation: I’d be interested to know if any media outlets have their own research on what their readers, listeners and viewers think about exclusives. Does your outlet have a stated policy as to what constitutes an exclusive and how to manage one? Do you have an opinion on the definition?

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