Thursday, January 09, 2014

Scoops turn ugly when they're wrong

A friend of mine texted me on Wednesday, frustrated by the fact that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address had overrun her Twitter feed. More to the point, she was frustrated by all the journalist types trying to beat all the other journalist types to the punch with specific points of his address.

“I’ve noticed the reporters that tweet excessively seem to have less of a filter, report more emotionally than you see on TV, and sometimes in an effort to beat others to a scoop, are blasting erroneous info to the world,” she said to me. “This rant was brought to you by my exasperation over receiving too many (imho) tweets about the governor’s address today.”

I told her that Twitter has complicated the news industry. The immediacy of the news seems to be more important these days than the accuracy of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I want my news now, too. I use the Internet, and specifically Twitter, to keep up on breaking news items all the time. I only watched two Buffalo Bills game all season long. The others I “watched” via Twitter, checking in occasionally to see how the team was doing.

“I’m big on being right. But as a reporter, there is also a big focus on being first,” I told her. And then it hit me. Getting a scoop is still a really big deal. In the days before Twitter and Facebook and 24/7 websites, you either beat your competition in the next day’s print or you didn’t. Now us journalist types have to try to beat everyone online. Twitter. Facebook. Whatever.

And when you’re first — speaking as a journalist type here — there’s an incredible, almost undefinable sense of pride. I tried long and hard to think of a real-life comparison to share with non-journalist types. Failing miserably, I turned to the Internet to ask my Facebook friends, many of whom are journalist types themselves.

Below are some of what they consider to be comparable real-life situations:

• Walking down the street, minding your own business, and finding a $50 bill on the ground.
• Maybe a sports (pro or not) comparison: like being the teammate who makes the winning play in the championship game.
• Christmas morning when you open that gift you REALLY wanted.
• Perhaps landing a new job ... or a first kiss.
• Getting a date with a girl that you thought wouldn’t give you the time of day.

As you can see, those are pretty big deals. Scoops are the capital of journalism. They make our world go ‘round.

But if the scoop is wrong, what we’ve got is a counterfeit $50; making the winning play and then having it called back because of a foul; opening the gift you wanted and immediately dropping it, fracturing it into 1,000 pieces; landing the new job but failing the drug test … or kissing the girl and finding out she wasn’t a girl; getting a date with the girl, and getting stood up.

To exacerbate matters, incorrect scoops lead the public to mistrust journalist types generally. And then they assume you spent your whole life spending counterfeits and kissing transvestites.

So to my journalist friends who put speed ahead of accuracy: Stop it. You’re making us all look bad.

Scott Leffler is a journalist type who has never spent a counterfeit $50 bill or kissed a transvestite — to the best of his knowledge. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler and he’ll be sure to tell you immediately if he ever does.