Sad News About Tim Russert Broken By Wikipedia?

Posted by: Jon Fine on June 13, 2008

While making calls to confirm the swirling chatter that Tim Russert passed away today, I clicked on Wikipedia.

And, sure enough, there it was, revised at 2:01 PM Eastern time (7:01 Greenwich Mean Time, per the timestamp on the edit UPDATE 6/15: as commenter Jon points out below, 7:01 GMT is actually 3:01 PM Eastern time), right in the first sentence--well in advance of any other news outlet.

This is an old revision of this page, as edited by 66.187.200.74 (Talk) at 19:01, 13 June 2008. It may differ significantly from the current revision

Timothy John Russert, Jr. (born May 7, 1950 died June 13, 2008) is an American journalist who has hosted NBC's Meet the Press since 1991.

I didn't see this anywhere else online until around 3:30, at which point the Drudge Report linked to a brief New York Post item. The New York Times had it up at, I think, at 3:33--which, according to Mediabistro's TV Newser (disclosure), was six minutes before Tom Brokaw went live with the news on NBC.

Wikipedia, though? 2 PM. (UPDATE: 3 PM.)

(You can see the record of the Wikipedia edit change and timestamp here.)

Reader Comments

Aaron

June 13, 2008 5:34 PM

Interesting. That IP address belongs to Internet Broadcasting Systems -- the company that runs (for now) the websites of NBC's O&O's.

Looks like someone at IBS heard about Tim's death early and decided to put something unconfirmed on Wikipedia while his own news org was ordered to wait until family was notified.

Classy. I'm sure that will help IBS keep NBC's business.

mbi

June 14, 2008 6:34 PM

Tough luck NBC over the scoop. This is the essence of journalism -- get it first and get it right.

Jon

June 15, 2008 4:20 AM

19:01 GMT is 3:01pm ET, not 2:01pm.

Jon Fine

June 15, 2008 11:38 AM

Jon:
You're right. Fixed the item, and thanks.
Jon

Ant

June 15, 2008 7:28 PM

Aaron,

Why make unfounded accusations against people you don't know and on the basis on precisely zero evidence.

Get up on the wrong side of bed today or did you get fired by that company in the past?

Also TMZ.com ran with it at 3.25pm.

A

sosonj

June 16, 2008 8:40 AM

According to the CNN exec on "Reliable Sources", CNN and FOX agreed not to disclose Russert's death until after NBC announced it over fear that the family had not yet been informed.

Arwel

June 16, 2008 1:35 PM

As an Administrator on Wikipedia, I'm rather dismayed that we posted the news first - Wikipedia is supposed to document what other people have said, and the edit by 66.187.200.74 should have been deleted on sight as it was uncited. Indeed, I see there was another editor in the 66.187 address space who did revert the edit at 19.12 GMT

Wikipedia's not in the business of reporting the news first.

RobHey

June 16, 2008 2:55 PM

I actually noticed the early entry too on Wikipedia. I heard the news around 3:30 via breaking news from the New York Times. For some reason, I decided to check wikipedia and noticed they had already mentioned his death, which I thought was very weird! How does updating wikipedia become the absolute priority in these situations?

Aaron

June 16, 2008 6:52 PM

Ant, there's much more than "zero evidence" -- the IP address that made the edits belongs to IBS. A user at IBS changed wikipedia to report Russert's death before it was reported anywhere else. Those are indisputable facts.

What happened beyond that is conjecture, but there are a few obvious possibilities:

1) Whoever made the edit heard an unconfirmed rumor and posted it to Wikipedia as fact.

2) The mystery editor had the news confirmed through a source at NBC/WRC but was told the news was embargoed until reported by NBC.

3) The mystery editor had the news confirmed through a non-NBC source, but decided to edit Wikipedia instead of breaking the news on his/her own website.

If I were picking odds for what happened, I'd say it was most likely #2, with an outside possibility of #1, and #3 is laughable.

Since IB is keeping quiet about this, conjecture is all we have. So why hasn't IB released a statement about what happened?

Area Man

June 17, 2008 12:23 PM

Laura

June 23, 2008 6:18 PM

It's sad, but it's also indicative of the new reality; believing that you can "control" news by not releasing it yourself is, for any decent news organization, naive in the age of Twitter, blogging from your iPhone, and text messaging. NBC has how many employees? This is why non-news organizations take a hit when they hold on to something huge until they "confirm" it--because they're seen as having something to hide. Best to just get it out there while you're trying to do the right thing than to think you can keep a lid on ANYTHING these days.

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