The Race for NPR and NYT to Break Williams Story

It was a late night last night for NPR‘s David Folkenflik and NYT‘s Brian Stelter, complete with the tension of two outlets trying to simultaneously break a story on Twitter and their respective web sites.

Both were hot on the story of FNC Contributor Juan Williams getting canned from NPR. But who was going to officially get it first?

Tale of the tape…

At about 11 p.m. (Twitter disastrously doesn’t offer exact minute timing), Stelter released his first warning: “Stand by for news…” Approximately 40 minutes later Folkenflik tweeted the news of Williams’s termination, which was promptly  retweeted by Stelter. “RT @davidfolkenflik: #NPR terminates contract of longtime analyst Juan Williams for comments made on Fox News about Muslims. More to come.”

A brief delay. Then Stelter wrote, “NYT story on Juan Williams’ termination coming shortly. (Had to file it from a restaurant; thankfully I had a patient dinner companion.)”

While Twitter indicates the stories were broken simultaneously, the Stelter story came in approximately 15 minutes after Folkenflik announced the news without a full story. Stelter broke his with a link: “NYT: Juan Williams’ NPR contract is ended after comments on Fox New.” Read the story here.

Six Twitter messages later filled with details on Williams’s firing. It was about 3 a.m.  Folkenflik posted his story, tweeting. “My story on NPR’s decision to terminate the contract of Juan Williams, who had been w network for a decade.” Read the story here.

Who came in first

Technically NPR broke the news first on Twitter. But the larger NYT story came in before NPR’s. The precise timing between the outlets is a mystery. NPR offers no time stamp. Neither does NYT. Although one detail is for certain: NYT ran the online story on Oct. 20 (before midnight); NPR’s is dated Oct. 21.

Stelter declined comment. We’ve requested comment from Folkenflik.

> Update: We spoke with Folkenflik by telephone. He said he was up late last night writing the Williams piece both for online and the “Morning Edition” broadcast. He was also separately working on an obituary. “I want to be competitive on stories on this always and it’s an interesting story with a variety of facets  – it’s an interesting moment, but it’s not the Pentagon papers,”he said.

That said, Folkenflik felt the urgency to get the Williams story out on Twitter last night. But he wanted more details.  “My impulse was to use Twitter as a way to break the news and to prime people for information that was going to come,” he said. “I wanted to be there competitively, but I really needed to wait a bit to properly report the story. I didn’t need to wait to report the facts of what occurred.” Folkenflik said he spoke with Williams twice last night, who told him, “‘I’m talking to my wife, I need more time.'” Williams still has not provided comment to him. Folkenflik hopes this happens today.