Phil Reese

How soon is too soon to blog the breaking story

Filed By Phil Reese | August 13, 2010 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: blogging, sources, Twitter

We bloggers got our tushies kicked yesterday. Sure, Judge Walker decided his stay on the Perry vs. Schwarzenegger decision would expire August 18th (good news, although I'm pretty sure that the 9th District or Justice Kennedy is going to be jumping in and putting their own stay in place before then). However, despite the somewhat good news, every gay blogger, journalist and organization was pissed at one another around 4:00 Eastern Thursday.

twitter-down-bird.pngSomebody who shall remain nameless and who happens to be one of the best if not the best source for breaking queer news on the net; got us all worked up when he tweeted that Walker's stay had been lifted about 3:30 Eastern. What followed was a mad frenzy of bloggers, tweeters and journalists rushing to get some kind of confirmation and be the first to get the story up.

Except the stay hadn't been lifted. I sure as hell will continue keeping a very close eye on this particular blogger because I don't think anyone handles breaking LGBT news quite as well and as swiftly as he does. However, this raises some questions: why would Joe (oops, he was supposed to remain nameless. Sorry friend!) lead us astray? Well, quite frankly, he was himself led astray. And he quickly and humbly acknowledged so on his blog.

However, there was fall-out. Joe is one of the most followed gay news sources on Twitter. Quickly, Joe's tweet set off a Rube Goldberg chain of follies that had folks prematurely cheering victory on the steps of the courthouse. While trying to figure out what was going on myself, I could hear reporters on the CBSNews UStream live feed asking people how so many people knew that the stay had been lifted. "Someone said it was on Twitter" was dropped not once, but several times by folks in the crowd.

My own super secret source--Chris Geidner's blog--led me astray for about 22 seconds. During the wait I had put together a fairly generic blog post discussing the implications, as I understood them, of the next step in the stay, whatever the next step was going to be. I had cued up in the post itself little paragraphs and bits that I would either keep or delete depending on the decision, and then send that puppy off to press to hopefully make the 4:00 ET deadline. As the reports began to roll in, I was getting very confused, but I thought: "Geidner never pulls the trigger early! Once he tweets the decision, it's official.

However as the celebratory tweets rolled in I started to wonder if Chris was being too cautious. In fact, I was quite shocked about the sources that were reporting the stay was lifted. @lambdalegal. @freedomtomarry. @theadvocatemag. I decided that Chris was behind the times, man, and it was time to go live. I started to delete from my post any mention of a stay remaining in place. In fact I retitled it: "Marriages happening in California right now, Prop 8 stay lifted..." which technically would have been true either way as the title doesn't specify the gay kind, but that's off-topic.

Suddenly Chris was ready, and as I was hitting submit, the bombshell:

BREAKING: COURT DENIES MOTION, GRANTS LIMITED STAY TO APPEAL TO NINTH CIRCUIT. #PROP8

Limited stay? Well now I'm screwed, my post is all about how the weddings are happening. So the stay is lifted, but its not? Too confusing.

Apparently it was also too confusing for Joe's mole in the court house.

"While my mole in the SF courthouse did allow me to scoop everybody by 20 minutes or so, it was not until at least ten minutes later did I learn that the lift order doesn't go into effect until Wednesday. I quickly updated my posts here and on Facebook and Twitter, but I must apologize to everybody for my premature ejacutweeting. This is why bloggers aren't considered "real" journalists, I'm afraid."

It seems that it was Joe's tweet that set off all the others that almost set me off. According to Michael R. Triplett in his National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association blog, the line can be drawn between the hundreds and hundreds of people who text-messaged the news to their loved ones on the steps of the court house in San Francisco, back to the tweets from the Advocate, Lambda Legal and Towleroad, back to a tweet from Freedom To Marry who had trusted Joe's mole in the courthouse.

Triplett makes a great point that anyone that has a social media program ought to take to heart:

"...advocacy organizations don't seem to understand they are in the news business when the create a social media strategy. They are viewed with authority and then picked up by others. Suddenly, lots of people have misinformation."

How late is too late?

Blogging is a crowded field. I can't tell you the number of times I've gone through the trouble of parsing out a blog for Bilerico, only to attempt to submit it and see another contributor has already analyzed the subject in a pending post with an analysis not unlike my own. There's no point in wasting readers' time with what works out to little more than a transcribed nod of agreement.

Being first is incredibly important--there is no point to the role of blogger unless you're early. No one is composing a blog today announcing Walker's decision last week. Everyone already knows. What's the point.

Bloggers also want to be able to have a super-informed, intelligent audience, so they seek to get you as much good content to digest as possible. So being quick to the draw is key.

I remember 2003, biting my nails waiting for news of the Lawrence V Texas decision. At the time, there was no Twitter and no one was on Facebook. I mean, for Pete's sake, YouTube didn't even exist yet. The Advocate's website was nothing more than an ad for the magazine. I'm not entirely sure if 365gay.com goes back that far, even. We're talking the Stone Age of gay online media.

Those of us in rural, heartland areas had no access to any resources that would deliver us the news upon its arrival from the court. I sat all day at my desk hitting refresh on the web pages of several of the big LGBT organizations--Lambda Legal, Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, etc--all in separate windows, because this was before tabbed browsing. It was hours after the court's decision was filed before anyone had any information up. And then it was just an announcement, no analysis.

That's what's great about Twitter and the powerful gay blogosphere today. However, are we now replacing the long delays to get information out after Lawrence with a hyperactive noise chamber, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?"

It turns out Chris Geidner's caution was just about perfect. I can imagine Chris was sweating bullets as colleagues were happily confirming that the stay had been lifted all around him, as he waited for someone to locate a copy of the text of the decision for him. In the end, the wait paid off. The first person that I was following that had an accurate report of what happened was the LawDork himself.

Lesson learned: Twitter is not a primary news source. Its not even a secondary source. Its the old time equivalent of an anonymous tip from a caller with a disguised voice. Twitter can tip us off, but good bloggers have to rise above the temptation to retweet without a good look first. Once we do have our solid information, its up to us to inundate Twitter with the truth--and that's where social media tools really have their place. Once you have a good, reliable blog post up, promote the heck out of that puppy.

The only way that we can counter the lies and distortion of the Far Right is if we are able to conquer the untruths in our own camps! We have an obligation to our readers to assure we are only bringing them the most accurate, most useful information every day. Even if that means we can't be first.


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Fun story, Pretty obvious if you were following the CBS UStream, which NEVER got it at all. vs. the Blogosphere vs. Twitter.
Only if you know your twitter source has read the Legal DOCUMENT, as it was spelled out right there in the LAST paragraph.

hehehe - I love it the race for the Top!! Admittedly I got caught by the date, itself - which I added a few minutes later - however I knew there could be the limitation pending the emergency appeal. So kind of prepped some wordy stuff in advance... ahah a Blogger who happens to have been a lawyer with a bunch of weird albeit esteemed law degrees from foreign countries... lol That said Perez Hilton crashed us the first over turn reporting by tweeting our site to his 2 million fans., Over marketed and getting to top is not always the best place to be. Thanks for the great piece a slice of truth!!!
Melanie Nathan www.lezgetreal.com

I say relax. Mistakes get made, even in traditional media. This one was pretty harmless. Most of the world isn't interested in the blow-by-blow minutiae of this case, anyway.

Great post Phil! I am a fan of social media and fell into the Twitter trap yesterday as well. But Joe is still top of my blogging list!

I agree with Steven, who cares and mistakes do get made. That's why most papers and online sources have a "Corrections" column.

One thing that should be noted, if you're a fan of tweeting like me, is the value of the conversations that are happening. I met so many new people in the Twitosphere yesterday with the fancy #prop8 and the popular #noh8 hastags. All of us were there, together, tweeting, conversing and celebrating. It was as if we were standing together outside the courtroom with our fellow San Franciscans.

Twitter has expanded our conversational reach. We no longer have to sit in the lone room refresshing the HRC page. We can now, in real time, get the news with a bunch of our friends and share in excitement. This allows people in rural heartland to feel part of the excitement and connected to the happenings in San Francisco.

I would take this type of conversational advancement over a site refresh any day.

Leone, thank you--SO ELOQUENT! And yes, Joe is still my number one source, despite yesterday, and I felt really guilty about even mentioning it in this blog, but I don't think I could have written it without mentioning it.

I shot Joe an email making sure he knows I love him still! HAHA

No matter what, Joe is the ONLY blogger whose posts are fed DIRECTLY to my cell phone's main inbox, so every time he posts everything I know about it instantly. I wouldn't trust anyone else.

We all screw up occasionally. It's why Phil doesn't trust me anymore. ;)

I think all news needs to be read with a skeptical mind, even from traditional news sources.

When it's something like this, I would prefer that bloggers and journalists either post a link to the original source document the moment you get it or wait and post your opinion when you've read the original source document...and include a link to the document.

Either way, the first thing I want to read is the original source document. That's what I look for. I only start reading opinions and analysis after. Not that I think I can understand a court decision better than a lawyer, but I need to read the thing that's being analyzed so I can get more out of the analysis. If that makes any sense.

Mistakes do get made, yes, but we're supposed to learn from them when they do get made. Good post, Phil.

I commented on another thread that knowing about the prop 8 decision (or whatever event) 10 minutes earlier doesn't have a material advantage to anyone. Telling people to be more responsible, though, isn't going to solve anything - this isn't a problem of one or two blogger, but an infinitely large blogosphere where posting quickly, with or without the correct facts, is rewarded.

We new media types can be pretty defensive about the value of new media in comparison with the way things used to be, but that shouldn't mean that we aren't open to self-criticism. Someone made a mistake and it was untraceable in the moment, so, frankly, I'll still prefer to get my news a few minutes later. At least when the dust has settled we have a better chance at telling who's giving out misinformation and who's trying to relate the facts that are known.

I wasn't even online when the decision was handed down, but I found out about it eventually. My life isn't worse because of that.