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Reuters must keep core values to keep traditional clients

I was delighted to read, courtesy of The Baron, that the Washington bureau has acted to rectify its loss of spot timings competitiveness. The loss has been attributed to "structural deficiences". Until we know what these actually are and who has allowed them to develop, we have to be careful in attributing blame. But, in the absence of contrary evidence, the finger must surely point at management.

In the 1980s I was part of a team monitoring Reuters global international text competitiveness in terms of speed, accuracy and breadth of coverage. Unsurprisingly one major focus of our attention was Washington, a G7 bureau which could fairly lay claim to being the news capital of the world. No bureau outgunned Reuters rivals on timings on every occasion. They won some, they lost some. But, most importantly, they led most of the time. Very rarely a bureau hit a bad patch. This was quickly highlighted, and rapid remedial action ensued from editors and bureau chiefs. No bureau was systematically uncompetitive against AP/UPI/AFP/DJ/Knight-Ridder, or later Bloomberg. Maybe in recent decades the company's earlier timings superiority bred a culture of management complacency. 

I was completely stunned to read last month that Washington needed a special 15-strong squad to rectify its timings defeats and that now a $2,500 monthly prize has been initiated to ensure staff do what used to come naturally to all wire service folk - namely be competitive. If Washington can drop the ball, is any other bureau safe? In recent weeks comments on The Baron have highlighted failings in Switzerland, Cuba and East Europe. And as any high performance sportsman or woman can confirm: if you drop the ball, it has a habit of rolling away from you.

As a somewhat gnarled retiree I cannot properly assess Reuters’ current global competitiveness. The 21st century media landscape has changed, with huge amounts of spot news now diarised and commoditised. Breaking news via official websites and Twitter feeds as well as via live televised events make it ever harder to rack up traditional spot reporting beats. Initiative-driven exclusives are clearly necessary nowadays to keep Reuters as a must-have news source… but surely not at the cost of neglecting the old "get it first and get it right" approach, even if the beats are measured only in seconds?

Reuters boasts of its prowess on the website The current display does not particularly excite. All the submissions reflect creditably on the bureaux and staff involved. But how many of them can be classed as "must have" rather than "nice to have"? Unless my searches suffer from "structural deficiences" I find no major beats on the Peshawar school murders, the Charlie Hebdo killings, the AirAsia crash, or, on last month's truly seismic event in world financial markets - i.e. the scrapping of the Swiss cap on the franc's value. No amount of top-notch jaw stroking and head scratching can keep financial and media clients loyal unless the Reuters traditional priorities of accuracy, speed and freedom from bias remain intact. ■