Mar 19

“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 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.