Tweeting headlines for breaking news

Getting breaking news out quickly but also accurately has long been a key challenge for news journalism. Given the volume of news items that some news organisations publish on their Twitter feeds, and the time pressures involved — particularly for breaking news — it is perhaps surprising that more mistakes don’t occur.

This is one error that highlights what can go wrong — and also raises an issue about auto-tweeting published headlines. It came at the end of the trial (for fraud) of the former personal assistants of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi. The Grillo sisters were found not guilty on 20 December 2013 — as the main Associated Press (AP) Twitter account accurately noted in its initial ‘BREAKING’ tweet.

Following up around 14 minutes later with a further tweet that linked to an AP story, however, it inadvertently cast Lawson and Saatchi as those cleared of fraud — in a case in which they had appeared only as witnesses (and they had not faced any charges):

The situation was particularly confusing because the story to which that inaccurate tweet linked was correct  — as the Twitter card preview showed (below). So although the wording from that headline would have made for a less effective tweet than the first ‘BREAKING’ tweet, it would have been accurate.

The mistake was corrected about 20 minutes later:

In general, news tweets work best when written specifically for the medium rather than simply replicating headlines written for a website story, say. But this is a counter-example in which tweeting the headline from the web version (as some accounts are set up to do automatically) would have ensured it was at least accurate.

Press Gazette and — thinking alike

Pure coincidence, of course, that Press Gazette‘s diarist, Axegrinder, picked up on two of the same stories featured on last week. You saw them here first — if you were one of my early readers, anyway.
The ‘Grammer School’ billboard is on the PG blog, and the Mail and Express front pages about house prices appear in the print version (right).

Any sub knows the difficulty of avoiding occasional mistakes. Such as ‘backpeddling’ in an Axegrinder headline. Confusing pedal and peddle seems to be a classic — one of The Guardian’s homophone horrors missed by spellcheckers. After making the error in a review of a cycling book, The Observer corrected succintly:

Our review […] included the phrase: ‘The story of her lonely peddling makes for evocative reading.’ Cyclists pedal. Pedlars peddle.

But I bet we’ll see pedal/peddle cropping up again. Can you tell that I used to be a sub, by the way?

Re-read for accuracy, grammar and spelling

It’s tempting to think the Evening Standard was aiming at irony with this billboard. But that would be too subtle a strategy to succeed, I suspect — and a limited readership (although perhaps under-targeted…)
‘Grammer School’ billboard, Evening Standard
The same error in The Times Online was corrected — but only after it had been published on the site and started to show in news feeds, as Adrian Monck noted. It did appear online in that form on The Times Online, as Google’s cache showed for a while:
‘Grammer school’ headline Times Online
The corrected headline then appears to have replaced the previous version in Google’s cache, too — although a reference to it lives on in one of the ‘Have your say’ comments from a reader, referring to the uncorrected headline:

“Tory resigns after grammer school row” — such a headline in the Times is a case against comprehensives.
Dagmar Alpen, Cologne, Germany