On Thursday morning, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its complex and lengthy decision on the Affordable Care Act, many news organizations quickly broke the news over the social network Twitter.
In the rush to be first, these organizations tried to boil the decision down into 130 characters or less after a brief scanning of the 193-page court document.
The end result was that some initially reported incorrectly that the individual mandate of the legislation had been declared unconstitutional.
Twitter may allow you to quickly report news, but it also increases the chances of being wrong by bypassing the usual checks and balances that come with actually composing a news story.
For years, journalism has followed the rule of adding headlines after stories are written. Twitter reverses that process. Thursday’s example shows the risk this flip-flop of headline first, story second brings.
At the Standard-Examiner we use Twitter more as a marketing tool, rather than a reporting tool, much to the consternation of some reporters — who feel this puts them at a competitive disadvantage. We do not allow reporters to tweet news until a story has been posted on one of our websites. In other words, they can’t break news on Twitter until they have filed a story to be posted online.
Granted, the main reason for this policy is so we can link the story through social media and draw our audience to the website, where we sell advertising. It was a policy drawn up for simple business reasons of trying to monetize our news-gathering process.
But the policy also has a built-in measure of journalistic control. It requires the reporter to go through at least some form of the vetting process by writing a short story that includes the “Five Ws and One H” rule of journalism — who, what, when, where, why and how — before the headline is blurted out.
As I was driving to work Thursday morning, KSL radio initially announced the wrong Supreme Court decision over the air, based on the faulty tweets from CNN and Fox News. In this age of immediate news and multi-platform delivery, this shows how quickly incorrect information can be disseminated.
THE “L” WORD: A couple of months ago humor columnist Mark Saal wrote a piece mocking former Weber State University football coach John L. Smith for taking the Arkansas job before even coaching a down for the Wildcats. In the tagline at the end of his column, he identified himself as Mark L. Saal in one last shot at the turncoat coach. Since then, Mark has been receiving a lot of correspondence addressed to Mark L. Saal. Mark’s real middle initial is A, for Anthony.
He asked me what he should do about the apparent misunderstanding. I gave him the most logical response I could come up with: “You’ll just have to change your name.”
Andy Howell is executive editor. He can be reached at 801-625-4210 or firstname.lastname@example.org.