As I read the first ever Sun on Sunday yesterday, it occurred to me how many of the stories were ‘exclusives’. British plans for a war with Iran (page 9), reaction from the parents of murdered teenager Nikitta Grender (page 19), an interview with Gary Oldman (page 47); there was a ton of them. In total, the word ‘exclusive’ was mentioned 36 times in puffs, page furniture and bylines throughout the paper.

But what does it actually mean when a story is labelled as an ‘exclusive’? I always believed it involved a story containing original material published by only one publication. The Guardian’s phone hacking stories, the expenses scandal, Mark Souster’s leaked England rugby reports and, just last week, the Telegraph’s revelations about abortions based on gender would all fall into this category. All of them revealing new information about a topic or issue.

Furthermore how do you go about categorising exclusives? What makes Amanda Holden’s big front page and two spreads inside a ‘world exclusive’ and other stories as regular exclusives? And does reinterpretation count as an exclusive? For example, the story about England’s new kit being launched by a new group of younger players (page 41) was labelled as an ‘exclusive’ but the kit was launched last week and the pictures were already in the public domain. So all that had been done was that the launch has been given a different angle to justify its inclusion in the Sunday edition. That’s fair enough but does that merit ‘exclusive’ in the byline? I don’t think so.

The question is then: why do newspapers (not just the Sun on Sunday) brand these lesser stories as exclusives and what value do they get from doing so. I didn’t come up with much:

a) because they had data/reason to believe that more people read the articles marked as ‘exclusives’, spent more time on those pages and therefore could charge more for adverts on those pages (unlikely)

b) because it fostered a sense that readers were getting great journalism and would buy the product more regularly in order to access those exclusives (more likely)

From my point of view, that an article is an exclusive does not particularly contribute to whether I will read it or not. Picture, caption, headline and first sentence are the elements of a story I respond to. In fact, I get annoyed when I’m told a story is an ‘exclusive’, only to have read the majority of it elsewhere or for it to feel commonplace. For me, an exclusive should be an article that you want to read so badly, you buy a paper just to to read it.

The trend in papers, mainly tabloids, of bombarding readers with ‘exclusives’ can only be diluting the idea and harming genuine, revealing, ground-breaking journalism when it is published. I, for one, would like to see it used less and mean more.

Has the overuse of ‘exclusive’ damaged its meaning?