I was contacted by two readers Sunday who were upset that the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s coverage of Johnny Spillane’s silver medal win in Vancouver, British Columbia, ruined the surprise of watching it on NBC’s tape-delayed telecast. More specifically, they objected to our breaking news text message that revealed Spillane’s and Todd Lodwick’s finishes. The problem, they said, was that our alert was sent out as NBC’s taped coverage of the thrilling and ultimately historic cross-county race was under way.
I’m sympathetic to their anger — our intent certainly wasn’t to ruin anyone’s day — but also keenly aware of the challenge a news organization such as the Pilot & Today faces in terms of reporting Olympic results in real time.
Our job is to report the news as it happens, and Spillane’s win in Sunday’s Nordic combined event certainly qualified as a monumental news event for Routt County. Although NBC chose to not broadcast the jumping or cross-country portions of the event live, we pushed ahead with blow-by-blow updates on the newspaper’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. We also published and continually updated a story on www.steamboatpilot.com reflecting the Americans’ performance in the jumping round, which set the stage for the medal-determining cross-country ski race. I think that’s the correct approach and one we will continue to follow throughout the games.
But Twitter, Facebook and www.steamboatpilot.com updates are different from text alerts. In most cases, the former are information avenues in which folks play an active role in exposing themselves to the news. It’s hard to have much sympathy for someone who didn’t want to know the results of the cross-country race — or any other news or sports event, for that matter — yet spent the afternoon browsing Facebook and Twitter posts, or went to www.steamboatpilot.com looking to read the latest local news.
A cell phone text alert, on the other hand, can sneak up on us when least expected and leave us with few options for avoiding the content of its message. The scenario probably went something like this: Folks who were watching Sunday’s race felt a buzz in their pocket, took out their phone and, before they could stop themselves, saw the results of the race they were watching.
We have about 400 readers who receive cell phone text message alerts from us, and I presume most of them signed up for the free service because they want to be alerted to major local news events as they happen. We’re careful not to frustrate readers with an overwhelming number of alerts about relatively inconsequential news items. Instead, we reserve the alert function for only the most significant and breaking news. And though Spillane’s silver medal Sunday qualified, I understand how our alert affected the experience of some of our readers.
For the duration of the Olympics, we’ll be more careful in the wording of our text message alerts to readers. For instance, instead of revealing the places of local finishers, we might let readers know that the results are in and available at www.steamboatpilot.com or, for smart phone users, www.mobile.steamboatpilot.com. We will, however, continue to provide real-time updates on our Twitter accounts — Steamboatpilot and StmbtOlympics — and Facebook page. And updated stories will continue to appear on www.steamboatpilot.com and our Olympics page, www.steamboatpilot.com/olympics.
In the meantime, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that NBC has the good sense to provide a live broadcast of the upcoming Nordic combined events. But even if the network doesn’t, we’ll still report the news as soon as it happens.
If you’re worried about knowing the results too soon, I’d suggest you do what I do on those Sundays when I’m forced to DVR a Broncos game — remove yourself from the world until the moment you can sink into your couch and hit the play button. It’s not perfect, but it’s the times we live in.
From the Editor appears Thursdays in the Steamboat Today. Call Brent Boyer at 970-871-4221.