WEAA radio host Marc Steiner beat the Baltimore media to the punch on January 6 with an email blast at 1:36 p.m. regarding Mayor Sheila Dixon’s resignation. It was more than an hour before the main media outlets confirmed the report. By that time, the story had taken off on Facebook and Twitter.
Critics of Steiner are crying foul because he inaccurately reported that the mayor had already resigned, when in fact she will not do so officially until February 4. Here’s how one Baltimore Sun reader responded to media critic David Zurawik’s column about Steiner’s scoop: “It doesn’t count if he gets the information terribly wrong.”
Terribly wrong? That’s an overstatement.
Despite the mistake in Steiner’s initial report (which he was quick to acknowledge and correct), the story was basically right—“Dixon Resigns.” This is how the Sun reported it the next day.
Might this reader have been more forgiving had the technical inaccuracy been committed by a more traditional news source? After all, everyone knows that the news industry presents us with a first, and sometimes imprecise, draft of history. (Remember Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction?) And who says what does and “doesn’t count” as legitimate breaking news? If it informs the public, it counts.
Once upon a time, real news came exclusively from the authoritative voices of radio, television and newspapers, but the new media has changed the game. It’s now possible for a major story to break in your inbox—before ever reaching the TV cameras or the press.