News lessons from TMZ and Michael Jackson

tmz_jacksonLos Angeles gossip site TMZ got the scoop that Michael Jackson died. They had it about half an hour after paramedics arrived, and about 15 minutes ahead of the LA Times. When the LA Times blog was just reporting that MJ was in the hospital, and then in a coma, TMZ already had a headline that said “Michael Jackson Dies.”

That’s a great hed, by the way: It’s direct and to the point. What more do you need?

But few people believed TMZ because the story didn’t say what the sources were, or at least not very clearly. And despite its excellent track record of shoe-leather reporting, TMZ doesn’t have enough of a reputation in most people’s eyes to be considered a reliable source on its own. That may change, since getting “the scoop of the decade” has done a lot to augment TMZ’s reputation.

But yesterday afternoon, it was only after an LA Times blog confirmed the death, citing “city and law enforcement officials,” that the story was credible.

Lesson #1: Your sources matter. And readers will pay attention to who those sources are. If TMZ had stated its sources more clearly in the story, more readers would have believed them.

Lesson #2: Reporting counts for a lot. TMZ has worked really hard, doing serious, old-fashioned, shoe leather reporting, to get this and other scoops, as the Guardian describes. There’s no substitute for developing and maintaining sources, knowing your beat, figuring out how to get ahead of the news, and laying the groundwork so that you’ll be ready when the big story breaks.

Michael Jackson: how celebrity gossip site TMZ got scoop of the decade [UK Guardian]

News lessons from TMZ and Michael Jackson

Open letter to a reader of Wired.com

Thanks for your careful attention to our blogs.

It may come as a surprise to you to find out that Wired publishes about 10 different blogs, accounting for a total of 50-100 articles per day, with a staff of about 25.

By contrast, Wired magazine publishes about 85-100 pages of stories per month with an editorial staff of 40 — and that’s not even counting the people who write most of the stories (who are freelancers) or the half-dozen interns.

As a medium, blogging is both faster-paced and less meticulous than magazine publishing. We have nowhere near the staff resources of our companion magazine, so we are unable to do many successive edits on each item we publish, as they do. And that’s not necessarily even desirable: In blogs, it’s important to be fast and to speak with a natural, individual voice, both of which would be lost with many-layered, magazine-style editing.

That said, I find typos and grammatical errors appalling, and I strive to eliminate as many of them as I can either before posts are published or shortly thereafter. Still, some get through. I’m grateful when commenters point those out, and I correct them when I hear about them.

Open letter to a reader of Wired.com