Wick Communications

In defense of slowing down

In Writing techniques on 18 Feb 2016 at 3:28 pm

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Poynter’s Benjamin Mullin did us all a favor by telling how the San Antonio Express-News managed to break news of the death of Antonin Scalia without breaking any speed records in the process.

Any pinhead would have known he had a scoop when he heard a Supreme Court justice had died. But a couple of experienced journalists in San Antonio not only grasped that they were on to big news but another central truth as well: “In a week or so, nobody might remember that the Express-News broke the story. But everyone would remember if Scalia was still alive and the Express-News inaccurately reported word of his death.”

True that.

Editor Mike Leary and political reporter Gary Martin decided immediately that they needed a second source. They rerouted a reporter and photographer who were in the area already to the tony resort where Scalia died. They had four other reporters work the phones. And, significantly, Martin and Guillermo Contreras began to immediately craft a story that would be ready to go when the confirmation came. They rushed to report and write, but they weren’t about to be rushed into publishing.

From Mullin’s piece:

Leary said the Express-News’ coverage of Scalia’s death shows the rewards that come with cultivating experienced, well-sourced journalists. In the days of dwindling ranks in the newspaper industry, there’s no replacement for having reporters on the ground whom people trust.

“We had local sources,” Leary said. “I’m not surprised we broke the story.” …

It’s easy to lose your head when you get a tip like that. When something that big falls in your lap, you would do well to remember the Express-News’ example. Work for confirmation. Work on your story. Do so simultaneously. And remember: They won’t remember who was first, but they will remember who was wrong.



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