An interview no one else has, an investigation, a leak or a drop. These types of stories are exclusive to the media outlets that publish them, meaning you’re unlikely to read them, at least not immediately, in any other paper. Journalism is intensely competitive, and so it’s no wonder editors jealously guard their exclusives. News Corp, Channel 7 and the ABC have all sent legal letters to Daily Mail Australia in recent months asking it to stop nicking theirs. And journalists will often argue about who, in fact, got the story first.

As editor-in-chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell puts it: exclusives sell newspapers. “Much of the driver for us is exclusive news. I’m regularly criticised on Crikey for the number of red exclusives, but they are quite important to driving digital subscriptions,” he said in an Oz interview recently.

Readers can assume original work went into most of the stories they read. But what about those stories that have that little bit extra — that exclusive quality that deserves to be trumpeted? Among Australia’s major newspapers, there’s no real consensus on what makes an exclusive, a Crikey investigation has found.

Your correspondent trawled through five days’ worth of the paper editions of the Daily Telegraph, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Herald Sun, The Age, The Australian Financial Review and The Australian for every instance the word “exclusive” appeared above a story. It quickly became clear that the nation’s two best-selling tabloids, the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun, don’t really bother. For The Australian and The Australian Financial Review however, exclusives are to be declared wherever possible.

Stories billed as “exclusive”, June 30 – July 4

The Hun had only two exclusives the entire five days from June 30 to July 4 — one a preview of an AIDS breakthrough that will be announced at an upcoming conference, and another was a data crunch of the number of cab drivers with criminal convictions gleaned from Tax Services Commission data. The Daily Telegraph had four: one about cabbies running drugs and guns, one about an accused man who fled to London (the Daily Tele journalist managed to track him down for an interview), one about the crowded nature of local prisons, and one about a rise in Australian gas production.

Fairfax’s two metropolitan compacts The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald were a bit more likely to blow their own horn, but not by much. The Age during the week we looked broke and chased up the story on the Myer executive hired after he lied about his experience, an investigation of serious union corruption, and the blow-up of the CBA financial advice scandal its business reporters have been chasing for months. But this didn’t result in a spate of exclusivesin fact, the five or so stories published on union corruption in Thursday’s edition, there was only one exclusive tag on the front page. The Age had five stories labelled as exclusive for the week. The Sydney Morning Herald had seven exclusives for the five days, one of which was about union corruption and another about the aforementioned CBA scandal.

It’s not until you get to our two national papers, The Australian and The Australian Financial Review, that the exclusives really take off. The Fin had 21 over the week, of which seven of the 21 were exclusive interviews with chief executives or other corporate leaders. At least five appeared the result of significant investigation by the paper’s journalists. Intriguingly, the Myer fake CV hoax got an exclusive tag on the front page of last Thursday’s Fin, but didn’t get one in The Age.

The Australian had a whopping 54 stories labelled as exclusives over the five days in question. Two related to the paper’s ongoing investigation of the links between Clive Palmer’s business and political operations. The vast majority related to politics, though a significant number also touched on social affairs. The business section also contributed a few exclusives — like in the Fin, these tended to be exclusive interviews with corporate honchos.

Does this mean The Australian and Financial Review break many more stories than the other papers we looked at? Not necessarily. But they are far, far more likely to tell you about it.