On Election Night, Calls To Get It Right

By Alex Weprin Comment

The ghost of the 2000 Presidential election continues to show itself 12 years later. If there is one thing that TV news organizations are making sure of tomorrow evening, it is that what they report needs to be right the first time. As the New York TimesBrian Stelter notes, this year has not been a great one accuracy-wise for TV, with a number of high-profile mistakes, ranging from CNN’s Supreme Court gaffe to ABC’s “Tea Party” report after the Colorado massacre.

For election night, caution is the name of the game.

All of the executives interviewed said they would be entirely comfortable making projections after their competitors. “In a close contest, we’ll simply wait,” said Sam Feist, the Washington bureau chief for CNN. And all of them cited the journalism chestnut that it’s better to be right than first. “It’s always lovely when the two coincide,” said Ms. Ciprian-Matthews of CBS, “but everybody here is absolutely on the same page: accuracy comes first.”

B&C‘s Andrea Morabito spoke to a number of veteran correspondents, and asked them the big lessons for election night (sub. required).

From ABC’s Jake Tapper:

“This is my fourth presidential election, so the best lesson is from 2000: Wait for the polls to close and all the info to come in before calling a state. Right is better than first. Also: Dress warm. Don’t eat anything spicy. Psyche yourself up for a long night , or even that the full results might not be known before you go to bed-if you go to bed.”

Also in B&C, editor in chief Ben Grossman weighs in on the “getting it first vs. right” matter (sub. required):

So as you go into your Election Night coverage, please keep in mind that it’s imperative to take a breath. The stakes are as high as they will be for any non-life-threatening event you will cover. This is the time to make big plays; or even more so, not to bobble the ball and commit a costly error. Yes, this sounds obvious and cliche, but we still seem to forget it too often: I know you want to be first, but remember first to be right. Otherwise, you end up with the same journalistic credibility as some guy sitting in his mom’s basement lighting up a blog or Twitter with shoddily or non-reported “news.” Remember: you can spend years building a brand, but it only takes a second to destroy it.