Update: The Wall Street Journal sent an email news alert at 6:37 Monday with this subject: “WSJ NEWS ALERT: WSJ/NBC News Poll Finds Voters Deeply Torn.”
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll has found an electorate that is convinced the country’s economic structures favor an affluent elite and is still deeply torn as to whether President Barack Obama or any of his leading Republican rivals can pull the nation out of decline.
In case you want to read more (and I can’t imagine why you would), a link takes you to the Journal story: Poll Finds Voters Deeply Torn.
We can disagree about whether these polls stating the obvious merit “news alerts.” But there’s no question the Post kicked the Journal’s ass on the story, whatever its value.
Picking up my original post: When I awoke this morning and checked my email, I saw a news alert from the Washington Post:
Really? A poll that reveals nothing new and just confirms what everyone knows about the country’s mood deserves a news alert? At 12:18 a.m.?
In the ensuing discussion, at least a couple people thought I was commenting on a tweet from the Post. I was commenting on the email news alert, but the Post did tweet the news at about the same time:
In response to the email news alert, I tweeted:
I attempted to add some humor:
My tweets sparked some response and more humor from myself and others. Not enough to call it a meme, but at least a ripple (and I fouled up the hashtag, one time adding an “s” to the end and others not):
My tweet prompted a blog post from John E. McIntyre, legendary copy editor at the Baltimore Sun. John was critical of the story for being a “thumbsucker” that didn’t present any news he didn’t know on the first page (and he didn’t bother to read further; why would you?). But John mistook my point:
He is making fun of a tweet that is the equivalent of a headline, and I, as a longtime headline writer, am a little touchy. He should understand better, after his years in the business, the kind of service a headline can perform. In this case, if the headline fulfills its basic function and identifies the contents of the article accurately, the reader can expect a tedious belaboring of the obvious.
I take some responsibility for John’s misunderstanding. Because of my use of sarcasm or because of Twitters’ 140-character limit or because of my own failure in writing, he thought I was criticizing the headline. The news alert headline was not as strong as the story’s headline (repeated verbatim in the Post’s tweet), which did mention Obama and the Republicans.
To clarify, my criticism of the news alert was twofold:
- Different editors will have different news judgment about what should constitute a “news alert.” But whoever thinks that a political poll with no significant news constitutes a news alert doesn’t understand why people sign up for news alerts.
- If the poll merited a news alert, it should have been sent out as soon as the Post had the data. This poll went out at 12:18 a.m. The web story had already been online an hour and 18 minutes, and the Post had the news long before that. That alert was delayed so it wouldn’t scoop the Sunday morning print edition. In no sense did this story have the urgency that justifies a news alert. Here’s a rule of thumb for news alerts: If it can wait until the press is rolling, it’s not a news alert.
Final note: I will be inviting the Post’s Raju Narisetti to respond. I will add that response if I hear from him. Update: Raju, a Post managing editor, and Jon Cohen, the Post’s director of polling, responded on the Ask the Post blog. They don’t really address the points I made here, but I appreciate the response nonetheless. My criticism still stands.
Update: Mark Potts just reminded me of this excellent post (mentioning me) from two years on the Post’s text alerts.
Update again: Jennifer Connic has joined the conversation on Twitter and her blog with some good advice for people handling news alerts: Put your self in the reader’s shoes before hitting send.