Wick Communications

‘Once we’re comfortable…’

In journalism on June 29, 2012 at 8:25 am

How did you learn of Thursday’s big Supreme Court decision?

I was eating breakfast (a heart-healthy bran cereal covered in strawberries!) when I received the text alert you see at the top of this post. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a breaking news alert quite like it before. The New York Times was telling readers to hold their horses. Reporters were reading the decision. They’d release a “torrent” of information just as soon as they grasped the decision.

Contrast that with the breathless television pundits. Both Fox and CNN initially got the story all wrong. “Mandate struck down” was the headline on CNN.com. “Supreme Court finds healthcare mandate unconstitutional” read the crawl under a Fox reporter. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Here’s the problem and you know it well: Some things lend themselves to TV while others do not. The fires in Colorado are a TV story. Flames and evacuees and heroic firefighters on the scene make for good TV. Long, complex SCOTUS decisions do not.

Balancing the need to be accurate with the need to be quick is always a struggle. Obviously, it’s more important to get the story right than to be first. But trust me: That is easier for me to say than it is for a CNN producer in New York. The pressures are enormous.

If you ever find yourself facing deadline and a 200-page court decision that takes a lawyer to decipher, take a deep breath. Remember that no one will recall whether you beat the competition by a matter of minutes. But everyone will be talking if you completely screw it up. …

One wag on Twitter suggested that the decision – besides being remembered as the day Chief Justice Roberts and President Obama found themselves on the same side of history – would be recalled as the day Twitter became a more reliable source of news than CNN. I don’t think I would go that far. But I did appreciate the tweet from @gangrey, written shortly after the decision was released: “Everyone in America should buy a newspaper tomorrow.”

Amen, brother.

Clay

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  1. This incident definitely reminded us of the importance of accuracy over just a few minutes of speediness.

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