Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Dewey Defeats Truman: An e-mail from my friend Tom Martin, head of corporate communications at ITT Industries:

I will be very interested in your reaction,and that of your readers, to the USA Today decision to run the "12 Miners Found Alive" banner headline. I'm not sure this ran in all editions, but it did in the one I received in White Plains. It raises obvious implications on the reporting and editorial side of the story, but it also raises questions on the publishing side. Presumably the publishers learned of the real news prior to the papers being delivered. Should they have taken actions to stop the deliveries in markets where it was too late to correct the story? Anyway, I'm sure there are many questions being addressed in USA Today's office in lightof the tragic outcome. How could the reporter on the scene file this report if there was any question about the true condition of thevictims? What was used as confirmation to the editors, etc?"

The New York Post and the Daily News both ran with identical one-word banner headlines--"Alive"--and I'm guessing there were others around the country who jumped the gun.

It seems to me that this is an inevitable consequence of clunky old media trying to compete with new real-time media. There's no time to confirm the story if you want to make the early edition, and you know it's going to be all over CNN and the blogosphere, so you make the editorial decision to go with an unconfirmed story. Personally, I don't think immediacy is the territory on which mainstream media should be competing, but old habits die hard and new pressures are clearly leading to lower standards.

Staci Kramer at media blog Trust but Verify says:

At some point, the media covering this story needs to look inward and consider the contribution journalists made to the spread of inaccurate reports. We all make mistakes... most of us, if not all, likely have repeated inaccurate information because it came from a reliable source. But we can--and should--take responsibility for what we report and how we report it... I'm not suggesting this coverage was based on reliable sources; the sourcing and decision-making is unclear at this point. The AP's reporting certainly contributed to some of the coverage but that doesn't explain why so many journalists at what had become a major media event went with what appears to be hearsay instead of waiting for official confirmation....The temptation to believe in miracles can't be underestimated. Neither can group-think. I hope I would have been skeptical."

Greg Mitchell at Editor & Publisher sums up: "It is unclear why the media carried the news without proper sourcing. Some reports claim the early reports spread via cell phones and when loved ones started celebrating most in the media simply joined in." If that's true, it's a pretty sorry reflection on reporting standards.

As for the publishing decision, the decision not to stop the presses or recall what was clearly a faulty product, I suspect the decision--like too many taken by big media conglomerates--reflected short-term financial considerations rather than long-term credibility concerns. Big media companies are run just like any other business, except that when it comes to public relations and corporate reputation they're less sophisticated and far less savvy.


  • At 3:29 PM, Blogger Edward O'Meara said…

    I just walked by a USA Today news kiosk and am appalled that the issue isn't simply pulled off the shelves! People were staring at it in stunned silence.


Post a Comment

<< Home