What the Scoop of the 2008 Presidential Election Says

Photo: Steven RollBy Steven Roll
ASBPE President

The biggest scoop of the presidential race was broken by a b2b blog: Democratic nominee Barak Obama’s selection of running mate Joseph Biden. [Hat tip to b2b press blogger Paul Conley for his Aug. 28 post about this].

According to Adam Timworth’s blog about blogs, here is how Jon Ostrower of Flightblogger got the scoop:

He knew that the candidate’s planes go into shop for repainting around the time of the announcement. He put a call out to his readers to keep their eyes peeled — and they came back with details of a flight which gave away the identity of the running mate.

This is a great example of crowdsourced journalism and the effective use of Twitter. Tinworth said Flightblogger’s readers used Twitter to convey the latest information.

Poynter’s Web Speak blog defines crowdsourcing as taking a task traditionally accomplished by a professional journalist and outsourcing it to a large group through an open call.

Twitter is a free service that allows users to send and read text messages called tweets. Sometimes referred to as microblogging, Twitter also offers social networking features by allowing users to follow other user’s messages.

ASBPE has a Twitter feed that Twitter users can follow. Tweets alert ASBPE’s followers by sending short text messages about developments such as the posting of CIO’s video on best practices on ASBPE’s group page on Facebook.

Crowdsourcing is an especially useful technique for b2b publications because they serve readers who are passionately interested in narrow topics (e.g., the brand of aircraft that the presidential candidates are flying) that would render most others comatose. Who else would have known or found it interesting that Obama’s plane was due for a new paint job?

But for all the clever use of new technologies and emerging journalism techniques, there were real shortcomings to Flightblogger’s story. Flightblogger complained that it failed to receive credit for breaking the story from a prominent blogger, CNN, and Fox.

Paul Conley says that Flightblogger has only itself to blame for the lack of recognition because Ostrower’s:

…posts are, well, sort of vague. Even he uses the word “speculation” to describe his findings. More importantly, he buries the lede. The “news” is at the bottom of continually updated post. And you have to read pretty closely to see that he’s actually on to something important. Even the headline is lackluster — “Presidential Picks and Planes.” His tweets are no better. At 8:22 p.m. he writes that he “may” have the story: “NetJets 863 MDW-ILG may point to Biden as Obama VP. Look for a return flight.”

These problems are probably mostly attributable to the immediacy of Ostrower’s reporting. Given that Ostrower was reporting each small detail as it came in, his apparent urge to avoid overstatement is understandable.

Philip Graham, the late publisher of the Washington Post, once said that newspaper reporting provides a “first rough draft of history.” Perhaps blogs and the crowdsourced text messages that fuel them are the new notes for this first draft.

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