JoeMyGod and the Premature Tweets (Updated)

A pat on the back to Joe Jervis at JoeMyGod for acknowledging that his tweets about Judge Walker declining to stay the order lacked the whole story, specifically that the stay would still be in effect until Aug. 18 and therefore no marriages until then, at the earliest.

While my mole in the SF courthouse did allow me to scoop everybody by 20 minutes or so, it was not until at least ten minutes later did I learn that the lift order doesn’t go into effect until Wednesday. I quickly updated my posts here and on Facebook and Twitter, but I must apologize to everybody for my premature ejacutweeting. This is why bloggers aren’t considered “real” journalists, I’m afraid.

Joe is correct that he appeared to be the only person with the initial news that the judge had denied the stay, but he didn’t have the whole story and prematurely said marriages could begin. Joe’s tweets were instantly retweeted over 100 times.

But there were worse offenders than Joe, who is just a guy with a blog and some good sources (and I say that with great admiration). Freedom to Marry also tweeted the same news, although they appear to have erased their tweet. But their tweet was picked up by Lambda Legal and the Advocate and over 100 others because they encourage people to retweet. The folks at Towleroad relied on Freedom to Marry’s tweet for their own post, which they later had to update.

That’s a much bigger problem because advocacy organizations don’t seem to understand they are in the news business when the create a social media strategy.  They are viewed with authority and then picked up by others.  Suddenly, lots of people have misinformation.

Fortunately, a lot of people waited until THEY SAW THE ACTUAL DOCUMENT before they started reporting.  I know it’s very old-fashioned, but that’s what good journalism is all about.  You can’t trust even the best moles and insiders to give you the right information and you should only trust what you can actually see.

UPDATE:  From the comboxes, a note from Freedom to Marry’s Evan Wolfson:

Point taken.  We did jump the gun today, and I apologize for that.

Echoing in my head now is something one of the “tough love” law profs declaimed during my first few weeks at law school  law — “The first rule of being a good lawyer is: Read on.”

This was a good reminder, and also a validation of how people are looking to Freedom to Marry more and more; we want that involvement and don’t want to let people down.

Now, let’s celebrate the good news and get to work building on it…



19 Responses

  1. “Suddenly, lots of people have misinformation.”

    Not so. People were in general looking for the first indication of: Did we WIN or LOSE. Joe’s tweet immediately gave us the answer. The stay will be lifted … on Wed. That is not misinformation any more than the hundreds of media outlets which bungled the specific details of the Steven Slater story. As with the Prop 8 story – that was a developing story and underwent multiple updates.

  2. I appreciate Joe’s correction he later made for not having the full story, but to blame others for Joe jumping the gun really doesn’t make any sense to me. I was on Twitter at the time and I saw his post: a lot of people were questioning whether he had an official source, etc. Yes, Freedom to Marry and others should not have run away with it, but the entire thing is, to be completely frank, Joe’s fault. That having been said, he did the right thing and corrected the information as soon as he got the update.

  3. Michael R. Triplett – I’ll ask you ONE question. Have you ever made a mistake when reporting on a story?! In the rush to meet a deadline, did you ever overlook a detail while looking at an “ACTUAL DOCUMENT”?

    I know you have, because you’re human (I presume) and humans make mistakes. Having a Journalism degree doesn’t make you infallible. So to pick on a blogger because he left out a detail (something he quickly corrected) is petty, childish, and completely asinine.

    If you’re representative of what the NGLJA has to offer, then I’ll stick to getting my news from Joe. He may make mistakes, but he admits it when he does…and incidentally Joe’s not a holier-than-thou prick.

    • I praised Joe for acknowledging his mistake. We do media criticism and analysis here which means pointing out mistakes and praising accomplishments.

    • “and incidentally Joe’s not a holier-than-thou prick.”

      No, but you sure are.

      The rush to be “FIRST POST!” is a mistake. It leads to incorrect information. If a few blogs and news channels had done a little more research before posting the recent story about Shirley Sharrod – like reading her entire speech first – she might not have been forced to resign for a bogus reason. Mike Triplett was simply pointing out this danger, and Joe has appropriately apologized.

  4. It’s interesting to hear that Lambda Legal was just RTing what Joe posted. I have video of the reaction at SF City Hall here: … when it was just folks on Twitter saying the stay had been lifted, nobody wanted to believe it yet. But as you can see, as soon as somebody says “Lambda Legal” the crowd erupts.

  5. Point taken. We did jump the gun today, and I apologize for that.

    Echoing in my head now is something one of the “tough love” law profs declaimed during my first few weeks at law school law — “The first rule of being a good lawyer is: Read on.”

    This was a good reminder, and also a validation of how people are looking to Freedom to Marry more and more; we want that involvement and don’t want to let people down.

    Now, let’s celebrate the good news and get to work building on it…


    • Thanks for taking the critique in the spirit it was intended, Mr. Wolfson. It’s a great lesson for all of us who tweet and blog.

  6. Mainstream media get stuff wrong all the time. We correct it, and usually try to update/change information online as we get it. Good bloggers (Joe among them) do the same. But in a Twitter world, you lose a TON of nuance in 140 characters, and it’s tough if not impossible to take something back or alter once tweeted.

    Bottom line? Everybody, from the most staid traditional newsroom to the most authoritative (or unauthoritative) blogger, is still learning as we go along.

    And heck…in a perfect world consumers of all forms of media would realize that what we all put out is the best information that is available to the disseminators at that given moment. Breaking stories are just that — breaking. It was interesting to watch different news outlets report the ruling in such different ways. Look at how the SF Chron and LA Times initial reports (especially headlines) differed so starkly…once they finally had stories online, of course. But that’s a different blog post.

  7. Michael, I’d like to clarify one thing from your post. Andy Towle only posted that the stay had been denied (with freedom to Marry as his source) and that he was waiting for more information. Then he posted Freedom to Marry’s statement and clearly stated that more information was needed. Then his updates that followed were with the actual document as well as a clarification/scolding of FM’s statement. Every step of the way Andy posted that he was waiting for confirmation and to see a copy of the actual document.

  8. I find this ranting against the lack of good journalistic practices a bit hard to swallow when the author writes: “But their tweet was picked up by Lambda Legal and the Advocate and over 100 others because they encourage people to retweet.” Over 100 others? It’s more than. Look it up in your AP style book, dear.

    • @Bob: Let’s not play gotcha with minutiae, okay?

      For what it’s worth, there’s nothing incorrect about using “over” with numerals. AP says that “more than” is preferred, not that it’s exclusively correct.

      Besides, if we follow your logic, then your comment loses some credibility, too. On the cover of my 2010 AP Stylebook, it says “stylebook” (one word, not two).

      How about we direct our energies to something more important: working toward marriage equality.

  9. I firmly agree folks should know their facts before reporting. But there is a distinction here between trying to be first at the expense of accuracy vs a simple mistake.

    As for Joe, I trust him way more than any traditional (sensationalist) news outlet. He is a man of integrity and quickly admits his faults. I will continue to read and trust his blog before any other site.

  10. I don’t think people can hold blogs to the same standards as mainstream news outlets … so to that extent I am not surprised or bothered by the original inaccuracy.

    But I am suprised that people treat one-off bloggers more seriously than thorough reporters who really do need documents or two sources because just making big claims to the world.

    Blogs should stick with what they do best – adding a crucial angle or opinion to something. Running around trying to be CNN when you’re just one guy in a home office, or a citizen journalist on the prowl is not ever going to be a sustainable strategy.

  11. I enjoy Joe’s blog and read it regularly. I read most of the major gay blogs.

    What I find odd about Triplett’s analysis is this notion that blogs are acting like the mainstream press. Many blogs, including the gay blogs, typically link to content produced by others. They must update frequently. They are run by a small number of people, sometimes just one person as in Joe’s case, so producing original content and updating hourly would be impossible.

    When blogs try to act like the mainstream press, as in this case, they can get the story wrong because performing the work of journalism isn’t easy. Some emulate the worst practices of the mainstream press. For example, as Dnashty notes, this ridiculous pursuit of being the first to report.

    As for Triplett’s assertion that Joe has “good sources.” Really? The person who gave Joe the wrong information isn’t a good source. He or she is a lousy source. I cannot think of an instance in which a court’s ruling has been leaked in any court case. An experienced journalist would have doubted the veracity of anyone claiming to have knowledge of Walker’s ruling and just waited 20 minutes to see the opinion.

    • Duncan, I don’t think we can deny that bloggers are replacing the mainstream press and traditional LGBT press for many readers. Even if they just rely on bloggers who are acting as news curators, we can’t deny that they are the place many people–especially LGBT people–turn to to access the news. They update more frequently and therefore are more reliable to get breaking news. I agree with you that most bloggers aren’t doing a lot of “reporting,” although there are some people who are doing that, but that doesn’t change the reality that people rely on them which places a new burden on them in terms of ethics and responsibility.

      • Michael R. Triplett wrote “I don’t think we can deny that bloggers are replacing the mainstream press and traditional LGBT press for many readers.”

        I don’t think we know that. In 2009, when some gay blogs were raging about the Obama administration not doing enough to advance the gay community’s issues I did a slew of person-in-the-street interviews and found lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who were more concerned with the economy and less concerned with passing ENDA or ending don’t ask, don’t tell. Are the LGBT blogs in touch with or even read by the broader community? I don’t think they are.

        What we do know, judging by the comments that are posted on the gay blogs, is that each blog forms a community of sorts. As such, they can be rarefied.

        In the instant case, tweeting Walker’s ruling, I don’t think any harm was done and Joe Jervis clearly understands that he has a responsibility to get his facts right. I don’t think every LGBT blogger shares Joe’s ethics. The problem is that those same bloggers have the ability to influence and mobilize a segment of the community. I do not see the LGBT blogs having conversations about ethics and responsibility.

      • Duncan, I largely agree with you. Influential LGBT bloggers form an opinion-elite that isn’t always in-touch with the LGBT mainstream, even in a place like your NYC. Four influential bloggers, including Joe, recently hosted a fundraiser for Sen. Gillibrand in New York. In one sense, that shows their ability to create a community with many followers. It also shows a level of special-interest influence that has little to do with journalism. But most think of themselves as activists first and “journalists” second so the ethical lines are really blurred.

        I’d love to see a larger conversation about ethics and responsibility–both among traditional journalists and citizen journalists/bloggers–and would like to have people like you involved.

  12. Duncan, I think your recent puff piece on David Blankenhorn was an example of why the “mainstream gay press” (if that isn’t an oxymoron) is out of touch. You simply neglected a lot of information that indicates that Blankenhorn is not the innocent your present him as. Since GayCity News accepted no comments on the article, it stood as a kind of unmediated portrait of a fine individual. The reality is quite different from that.

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