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The Strategy Room

SCOTUS Media #Fail: When Getting the Scoop Means Getting it Wrong

By: Emily Wenstrom

This morning, the country waited with baited breath for the SCOTUS decision—especially certain beat reporters.

Within minutes of the announcement, CNN and Fox had posted the news online, tweeted it, and announced it live on television: Obamacare is shut down!

Except, it wasn’t. A few minutes later, the SCOTUSblog announced that the health care bill was ruled constitutional.

Thousands of snickers and snarky tweets broke over the Internet, touting the hashtags #CNNfail and #Foxfail.

This is just the latest example of how the drive to scoop the competition can go awry. It’s an age-old problem that a live, 24-hour news cycle makes more noticeable and more frequent.

It also means it only takes seconds for a mistake to be caught, retweeted and spread to thousands, or even millions. CNN and Fox scrambled to replace their erroneous articles with corrections and updates, delete tweets and announce the correction on-air, but the gaffe quickly overshadowed the historic news they were trying to break.

At its heart, this practice of instantaneous coverage is rooted in the belief that being a few minutes ahead of competing news outlets makes a meaningful difference.

In the short term, it may . The first new information to break about a topic that is trending is likely the most retweeted, and thus, the most visited. This leads to high Google rankings, which leads to even more hits.

But in the fluctuating world of online reporting, one paper hits a scoop here, another there, and the difference between each is a matter of minutes. Long-term, is getting the scoop the best tactic to maintain and grow readership?

Readers who jump arbitrarily to whatever site gets key trending words on their page the fastest are not loyal readers. If you look at a news organization as a product and readers, viewers and listeners as customers, any marketer will tell you that the customers keeping you in business are the ones who see value in your brand and come back to you again and again. The loyal customers. Maintaining their trust in your brand is sacred.

And a system of post now/check later does anything but build value or trust.

In an era of ever-increasing content overload, readers are still keeping traditional media outlets in business–and often consider them the most credible news sources. Given that reality, the imperative isn’t necessarily to get it first, but to get it right.  The real value is in analysis and interpretation, which the general public relies on to gain a thorough understanding of complex modern issues.

Today, when we all held our breath awaiting this historic announcement, it was CNN we turned to, on television and online. That says something about the trust we have, or did have, in the more traditional sources of news.

What do you think? Will this gaffe have a lasting impact on CNN’s credibility, or your loyalty as a CNN “customer”? Take our one-question LinkedIn poll!




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