What you hear is not what you always get

December 12, 2014

As I’ve indicated before, before beginning primary search in a competitive intelligence project, it is important to conduct and conclude, as much as possible, your secondary research.

Secondary research work is very often viewed as merely a “collect and compile” process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whoever is collecting and then analyzing secondary materials has to be sensitive to things like false confirmation, as well as the real sourcing of the data that they are reviewing.

Now, if you are dealing with a trade industry publication, you can be pretty well certain that most of information about a target in the article or table was provided by the target itself. From there you have to decide whether or not you want to treat that as wholly reliable and accurate – or not.

But in dealing with other sources, predominantly general news sources, we tend to rely on the overall reputation of the source, such as BBC or the New York Times. However, a recent article in my local newspaper points out that our broadcast news sources, when it comes to non-US news, may not even be coming from the “source” that broadcast it.

Ben Dalton, now with World Learning, recently discussed with the World Affairs Council of Greater Reading (PA) how the news media covers global conflicts[1]. He pointed out that many news organizations have reduced (or even eliminated – my observation) foreign coverage budgets. This means that they now rely on outside sources for their foreign coverage. He pointed out that there are wide variety of organizations, largely NGOs, providing such reporting, as well as freelancers or even stringers, that is staff not regularly and fully associated with the broadcast organization.

Dalton pointed out problems with such sources:

“While there are nonprofits that are increasingly capturing compelling stories, the primary goal of these agencies is advocacy.… If they’re covering specific international stories it is in their interest to do so.”

In some countries, Dalton indicated, reporters, including of course freelancers and stringers, face kidnapping, being held for ransom, or even assassination. Certainly these factors color what they are able to report on and exactly how they report it.

The bottom line here is that no longer when we are looking at global news stories should we just rely on the reputation of the “source”. We have to dig further, and find out who is really providing the “story” – and why – before we can go further.

[1] Bruce R. Posten, “Media coverage of global conflicts addressed”, Reading Eagle, Dec. 11, 2014, B2.

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