Sometimes the news can’t wait

by Mathew on June 23, 2008 · 5 comments

A fascinating story in the New York Times about how NBC tried its best to keep the news of Tim Russert’s death from escaping into the wild so that they could make sure that his family knew about it. But Twitter and Wikipedia beat them to it. According to the Times story, Russert was pronounced dead at the hospital around 2:30 but NBC didn’t mention it on air for over an hour; on Twitter, the first mention I could find through came at 2:59. Two minutes later, Russert’s Wikipedia page was updated, by what the newspaper says was an employee of a Web services company that has several NBC affiliates as customers, but then not long afterwards it was reverted to the original.

One interesting note about the event: the employee who first altered the Wikipedia page has apparently been fired. A spokesperson for the company said that “a junior-level employee made updates to the Wikipedia page upon learning of Mr. Russert’s passing, thinking it was public record,” and that the Web services firm had “taken the necessary measures with the employee and apologized to NBC.” Was the person who changed the Wikipedia page committing an act of journalism, or divulging privileged information? I’d vote for the latter, but clearly the company wants to keep NBC as a client.

In any case, as the Times story notes, the lesson is that as long as there is news, people will try to share it. (Note: The NYT story says that NBC tried to hold back the news the same way the legendary King Canute tried to hold back the tide — but Canute (or Knud) didn’t really try to hold back the tide. He pretended to, so as to show the rest of his court that not even kings were as powerful as God or nature).

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