Post-Paterno newsroom advice from a veteran editor
It’s worth staying on the subject of the erroneous reports of Joe Paterno’s death Saturday for another day to look at two more perspectives from smart observers.
First, newsroom consultant Carl Lavin spells out 10 Lessons for Newsrooms from Saturday’s events.
Lavin is an independent “content strategist” who’s held high-level editorial jobs at the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Forbes.com. “These 10 lessons,” he writes, “are drawn from my newsroom experience—decades that included my share of errors—and from watching across several hours as a false report of Paterno’s death spread and was debunked.”
These lessons are aimed not at the newsroom that made the initial mistake, the campus website Onward State, but at “the second ring of error, the newsrooms that repeated the inaccurate information.”
The post is a little confusing to relate because Lavin states his list as things not to do when you think you are right, and then after you’ve discovered you were wrong. It’s a lot of common sense, but it’s worth a read because if you care about getting things right, you can never hear this stuff enough. Also, common sense is not so common.
Clay Travis at Outkick the Coverage offers thoughts on the larger issues behind the mistake, especially CBS Sports’ role in the process.
Travis hammers CBS for only attributing its report to Onward State once the story proved to be wrong:
CBS’s apology rings hollow because it would never have linked that original report if multiple outlets had verified the death rapidly.
Because CBS Sports was engaged in a clear and blatant Internet sport—search whoring.
Search whoring has taken over an awful lot of sports media—and the Internet at large—in the modern era. If you climb to the top of Google’s search results for “Joe Paterno death” millions of people will click on your article both immediately and for years to come. Plus, you slingshot to the top of the Google News results which brings millions more hits and also serves to supplement, you guessed it, your Google search standing.
People ask, why rush to be first with a death report?
And the answer is easy, because being first—even if your reporting isn’t original in the least, which CBS’s wasn’t here—makes it rain pageviews.
Travis notes that CBS Sports even cynically sold ads on the page of its apology.
Online sports news and commentary is a business, and page views are central to that business. Bleacher Report writers need not concern themselves with B/R’s bottom line, but the way for individual writers to get ahead is also by building traffic.
But trying to game that process is a dangerous bet. Being quick, getting in on search early, is important, but being first and wrong can mean a high-profile mistake.
It doesn’t take many of those before people stop trusting you, and at that point it doesn’t matter how fast you are.
Photo: Patrick Smith, Getty Images