For @SCOTUSblog, Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Posted on:

In case you missed it, CNN and Fox News both botched their initial coverage of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act this morning.

They based their initial call (that the law had been overturned) on incomplete information and later had to backtrack and correct themselves as it became clear that the law had actually been upheld. Poynter has the rest of the story with screencaps, tweets and corrections and Talking Points Memo cut the relevant TV clips together.

So, if you’re keeping score, CNN and Fox screwed up and their mistake was amplified by TIME, NPR, The Huffington Post and others, apparently sucking in even President Obama. Meanwhile, the Associated Press, Bloomberg and others broke the news at about the same time and got it right, at least the tweetable headline version of the news: either that the law was upheld or overturned. Win or lose.

But about one minute later (one minute!) over on their live blog, SCOTUSblog posted:

“The individual mandate survives as a tax.”

Thus getting the news not only fast and right but also providing the crucial “why” bit that was missing in the earliest mainstream media reports. They proceed to dissect the ruling in detail but in the meantime let their followers know that the ruling was “very complicated” and that they were still working to figure it out.

The live blog is worth reading (starting at around 10:07 a.m.) to see the care they took in avoiding the kind of snafus that entangled some of their colleagues in the mainstream media.

If you haven’t been following the recent excitement leading up to this ruling, SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog on Twitter) is typically a sleepy little corner of the internet that sees maybe a couple thousand visitors a day, mostly lawyers interested in news and analysis of Supreme Court rulings.

Today the blog saw over a million simultaneous readers on their live blog and over 3.4 million visits total.

As their 81 year old blogger Lyle Deniston told the Washington Post, their ambition this morning was to beat everyone to the news on the healthcare ruling…and unfortunately they didn’t quite do that. Technically.

But a minute is nothing to get the news not only right and fast but also to provide the important bits of detail that true experts are able to see quickly while those less versed in the complicated legal jargon are still fumbling around trying to figure out what it all means.

While mainstream media was doing this fumbling around, making mistakes, tweeting and posting the simplest and most mundane information, SCOTUSblog was using their expertise to dissect the ruling, communicate what they knew when they knew and ensure that they got the facts straight.

There’s a larger (and hopefully obvious) lesson here: deep expertise is incredibly and increasingly valuable.

The media companies that acquire and provide this type of expertise, whether they be small niche blogs that have it already or large mainstream news sites that acquire it, will have a distinct and growing advantage over larger and more established, but increasingly generalist incumbents who appear more focused on being fast and chasing pageviews/readers/viewers than being right and providing deeper insight.

So, in this particular case of Bloggers v. Journalists, I’m handing this round solidly to the bloggers. (Just kidding…sort of).