I love competition. There’s the thrill of a challenge; of pitting mettle and skills against a worthy rival; the buzz of being tested on a regular basis. And best of all, the kick of winning.
Yet, no-one wins all the time. When you come to accept that, it becomes the best spur to change, adapt and embrace developments that will help you improve and compete more effectively next time.
So, in my view, healthy competition is a good thing and helps engender improvement and excellence. Yesterday, however, I was given a harsh reminder that compeition also has a dark side.
A heated debate has been raging among members of the National Association of Press Agenices (NAPA) – a body set up to represent the interests of news and picture agencies. For those who don’t know, press agencies are businesses – of all sizes – which supply stories, pictures, film footage and other content to newspapers, magazines, TV and radio news channels and websites.
NAPA has a code of conduct, holds an annual meeting in London every year and is a typical trade body fighting for the best interest of all its members. However the organistion is currently riven by a deep internal division. A new applicant for membership has been opposed by two existing (and influential) members on the grounds that it is a direct rival. I say, so what? Keep the competition to the field of play – and have a trade body to represent those shared interests which exist, regardless of any business rivalry.
But what is clear is this: competition also brings out many less laudable qualities: pettiness, greed, jealousy, self-protectionism and fear of change or challenge to name a few.
The two protesting agencies have now threatened to resign if their rival is allowed in. There is now way NAPA – if it wants to be perceived as a principled and professional organiasation – should have a gun held to its head in this way. Sadly, though, it looks as though the act of brinkmanship (or toys being flung from the pram, depending on how you look at it) will be enough to carry a vote. The probability is that enough members will favour keeping two existing agencies, rather than welcoming the new.
When I set up Deadline Press & Picture Agency in 2000 there were four separate agencies based in Edinburgh. Our main rival in the intervening years has always been Newsflash. As part of the NAPA debate I was quick to point out the fact that we’re both members, despite the fierce rivalry between us. It was probably the first time I’d looked quite so positively on the long-running battle with Newsflash.
So the irony wasn’t lost on me just an hour later, when I got the first of several messages informing me the Flash had folded. Just like that. Suddenly Newsflash is no more. As far as I understand its Edinburgh office will be closed (as its Stirling office was several years ago) and its staff will have to find new jobs. Founder Frank Gilbride will apparently focus his news activities solely on his press agency based in Lanarkshire, Press Team. I won’t presume anything at this point, as who knows what plans Frank has? Certainly not me.
In the meantime though, it seems that Newsflash Edinburgh in an ex-agency. It’s passed on; it’ s no more; it’s ceased to be; its newsgathering processes are now history. And just like Monty Python’s parrot, when I heard the news I almost fell off my perch.