Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling on health care reform offered a valuable lesson for news organizations in the digital age: Take a deep breath.
That’s precisely what didn’t happen at CNN and Fox News Channel, during the 10 a.m. scramble after the court issued its 59-page decision. At first, both cable networks misreported the results, telling viewers that the federal mandate to purchase health care had been struck down. Apparently, reporters had read through page 2 of the ruling, but hadn’t yet reached page 4. Both CNN and Fox swiftly corrected the record, though not before a lot of confusion. CNN later apologized and promised to analyze its operations. Fox declared that it “reported the facts, as they came in.”
But when those facts are a matter of widely distributed public record, there’s little value, to news organizations or the public, in winning the race to broadcast by a nanosecond. The reporters who shined Thursday were the ones who made sure they understood the opinion before posting, tweeting, or going live. There’s a significant cost, in reputation and public trust, to getting a big event wrong.