“Time Out New York” Should Have Taken a Time Out

Today, senior account executive Lia LoBello has written the following special guest post.

Tuesday, media outlets were quick to report that actress Natasha Richardson had been Time_Out_Logo
critically injured in a skiing accident in Canada.  And while this story has now reached its unfortunate and sad conclusion, details over its course have remained scarce. Over the last two days, many news outlets cautiously reported the conflicting reports of Richardson’s injuries– all that is, except one. With an abandon you’d associate more closely with the New York Post’s 'Page Six' or Gawker, of all media outlets, it was "Time Out New York" that tried to break the story open mid-day Tuesday by citing one singular “source close to the family,” that the actress was “dead” and posting RIP Natasha Richardson: 1963-2009.  Within minutes, blogs such as PerezHilton.com had picked up the story, offering their condolences to the families involved.  Yet, there was one major issue– the actress had not yet died.  At that time, she was potentially brain dead– but by broad consensus, alive.

In the race to number one, such a critical and egregious error– particularly on such a serious claim– is the equivalent of falling flat on your face.  And despite posting an apology once the account was refuted– which took longer than normal to go live as the site crashed under traffic– readers raked the magazine through the coals, expressing anger at the irresponsible, opportunistic reporting. Odder still, yesterday, no link to the story appeared at all on the magazine’s home page.  Late last night, a retrospective of her work went live on the site– a piece much more reflective of "Time Out's" normal brand of journalism.

Putting aside the baffling entrance and even quicker apparent exit of "Time Out" (for non-readers, the magazine provides listings for events happening each week in the City, sprinkled with a light feature or two), into the gossip circus, the gaffe serves as a grave reminder that public goodwill is a fickle commodity– here one day, but gone the next, should a corporation stumble. In addition, in an era when information changes hands in the blink of an eye, in the handling of the scoop of a lifetime (as I have to imagine "Time Out" believed they had,) the rules of Reporting 101 must stand:  corroborate facts with several sources or make absolutely sure your singular source cannot be refuted. In not doing this, Time Out created a public relations nightmare and significantly damaged an otherwise intact reputation.  A little fact-checking– not to mention discretion– does, indeed, go a long, long way.

5 thoughts on ““Time Out New York” Should Have Taken a Time Out

  1. At least Time Out could, just possibly, use the excuse of a lack of information and pressure to be first with the news, no matter how uncorroborated.
    To see how far into the barrel of journalistic standards some publications will delve, check out the latest front cover of Britain’s OK! Magazine http://www.ok.co.uk/home.
    Jade Goody, a famous (or infamous) reality TV star is dying of cancer. She has months, possibly weeks to live. But that has not stopped OK! paying ‘tribute’ to her with this special edition that features “her final words” and “Jade Goody 1981-2009” on the cover. There is no pressure for this weekly publication to be first with the news, this is purely an opportunistic, shameless money making exercise.
    The question is however, if this is what they do when she is still alive, what kind of new depths will they sink to when Jade Goody actually dies? To coin a phrase from Jaws: “I think we’re going to need a bigger barrel”.

  2. I know you’re not alone, BomberPete and after this fiasco, am sure there are quite a few disillusioned readers who will also be ending their subscriptions.

  3. Kelly – agreed. It’s always a tragedy when someone of such talent is taken too soon. However, it’s this exact detail that troubles me – knowing that you’re taking the word of an unofficial source who won’t go on the record,is a tactic I’d expect from the Stars and Enquirers of the world. Not Time Out New York. Whoever pulled the trigger at the outlet should be ashamed that they would stoop so low.

  4. This doesn’t surprise me all that much. The tragedy of Natasha Richardson’s death is horrible enough without this kind of vulture-like “journalism.”
    My wife and I were long-time Time Out New York subscribers until its snarky tone and craven pandering to Paris Hilton wannabes made it useless to us.

  5. An unfortunate detail in this tragedy is Richardson’s lack of a publicist at the time of her accident. Her publicist died last year and Richardson spoke at the funeral. She had yet to hire a replacement. Therefore, media outlets went wild spewing whatever they could to be the first to break the story. This is such a tremendous loss and I only hope her family has the privacy to grieve without “insider” reports of information that is quite frankly none of our business. The world has lost a wonderful woman. As an actor and a human being, my heart hurts.