Watt Running

“My version of this is that the media is out of control…” Rep. Mel Watt said yesterday talking about a story last week by the Charlotte Observer. I know it’s a shock to everyone but I’ll say it: In this increasingly competitive media environment run-of-the-mill standard conversations can easily be blown up into “a story.” Is being the first and “clicks” more important than accuracy these days? Of course it is. Is it accurate to say he’s thinking about it? Yes. Is it accurate to say there’s a story in there and lightening could strike? Yes.

Last Thursday (Feb. 9, 2012) the Charlotte Observer posted a story by @FrancoOrdonez with the title U.S. Rep Mel Watt Also Considering Retirement. They then sent out a tweet posing a question as to whether he’d be running again. Watt considering retiring? Well not really… more like Watt just hasn’t filed yet. The bottom line is that you can be 96% sure Mel Watt is running for re-election — the other 4% is what McClatchy decided to focus on. But the guy I spoke with yesterday who sure looked and sounded like Mel Watt would appear to be running. Though he didn’t say the Observer piece was reported inaccurately — the tweet and the headline however are another story. And it’s all in how one wants to shape things. As everyone knows, it is now standard practice in the news biz to blow up information more than warranted with excitable headlines and tweets that often have zero to do with the content of the actual piece. I know this information is a thunderous shock to all of you news consumers and producers.

But is something up with McClatchy? Funny thing, this is the second time I’ve run across a story involving a CBC member in 6 months that a reporter from McClatchy was involved in and the info was a bit blown up. Both times, the subjects mentioned it as I was talking to them about the content of the stories. The first time was when McClatchy reporter David Goldstein did piece on Emanuel Cleaver back in September 2011. I called Goldstein after Cleaver put out a press release saying the report was outdated and inaccurate. Staff in the know complained the context was way off. The story blew up all over the internet. But that was the goal right? It’s not surprising that big established news orgs are scared of getting beat and pulling out all the stops as bloggers break stories. But I’m just asking: Is the goal in journalism accuracy or to blow things up? Goldstein never called back — no wonder why. There is no penalty for overblown “journalism.”

Yes there have been several retirements in the North Carolina delegation — but let’s not get carried away. In a media environment driven by clicks and hits and attention rather than straight accuracy take a guess why the headline was Watt Considering Retirement? But don’t be quick to blame the reporter. Often editors write the headline and the reporter has nothing to do with it. I’ve been in the news biz now for 14 years — does anyone really believe the readers are too stupid to see what’s going on? So while it would be an exaggeration to say the Observer story wasn’t accurate it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say the headline and the tweet (can’t find it… was it deleted?) were zealous. Rep. Watt sure as hell sounds like he will be running for re-election when I spoke with him yesterday. The filing deadline is Feb 29 so Watt has a while to keep us wondering.