Speed is vital, accuracy more so
First or most accurate? How do you like your news?
The answer is important, because sometimes you can’t have it both ways.
That was the case Monday as we tried to keep up with the torrent of financial news flooding us from Wall Street. You may recall, that was the day the markets dove 634 points after Standard & Poor’s downgraded the country’s credit rating.
Our editors posted the first breaking news alert about the market at 8:06 a.m., updated the story throughout the morning and sent another alert when the market closed at 1 p.m.
Shortly afterward, the news moved closer to home when the Puget Sound Business Journal posted a story on its website with the headline “City of Tacoma downgraded by S&P.”
Their story began, “Today the City of Tacoma became among the first municipalities in the U.S. to have its credit rating on debt downgraded by Standard & Poor’s, following the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating Friday.”
The story also contained this sentence, “In this case, it’s likely that S&P believes the City of Tacoma has a significant reliance on federal money and as a result, the federal credit downgrade impacts the Pacific Northwest city.”
We hadn’t confirmed the story ourselves, but we knew readers would come to us looking for it.
At 2:44 p.m., we posted this: “The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that the City of Tacoma’s credit rating has been downgraded from AAA to AA+ by Standard & Poor’s. This is a developing story. We will post more information as soon as it’s available.”
It’s not common for us – but also not unprecedented – that we would share another news organization’s headline. It’s a way for us to let readers know we’re aware of a story and working on it ourselves.
The problem, in this case, was that the story was wrong.
After doing his own reporting, our business reporter C.R. Roberts posted a story that began, “The sky is not falling in Tacoma.
“A report by a Seattle business website did not provide the entire story Monday when it proclaimed that the city had its credit rating on debt downgraded by Standard & Poor’s.
“The investment ratings service did downgrade at least two City of Tacoma bonds – the repayment of which is tied to lease payments on Union Station due from the federal government.”
It was the rating on those two bonds, not the entire city, that was downgraded.
Roberts’ story went on to say that Tacoma’s credit rating is well above average for a municipality, something the Journal left out. In fact, their original headline was still on the story Friday.
The incident illustrates our fast-paced news environment, one all news organizations are still trying to figure out.
In this case, we may have moved too quickly to post the Journal’s story, even though we said we still had reporting to do.
Online readers jumped to comment on what they believed was a lower rating for Tacoma in the half hour before we corrected the story.
Additionally, some of our news alerts didn’t make it clear we were sharing someone else’s report, and didn’t tell readers we were still reporting.
When we post a breaking news story on our website, our system automatically sends a text alert with a shorter version of the headline to readers who have subscribed to that service. It’s a way for us to get the news out quickly on all platforms.
The text alert on my phone read: “Report: S&P downgrades City of Tacoma’s credit rating.” If I hadn’t known otherwise, I’d have thought the news was generated by The News Tribune.
We certainly feel competitive pressure to be first with local news. We also know that sometimes other news organizations, in their haste, get it wrong.
We’ll keep working on where to draw the line between sharing what others are saying and waiting until we’ve done more reporting.
And we’ll work on our automatic feeds to be sure they reflect more fully what we know so far in a breaking news story.
Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434