January 2, 2012

First Box isn't about winning a race


---- — The Internet has put local media outlets in a competitive situation, but accuracy still must be more important than speed.

It used to be that when breaking news happened around here, you waited until the WIRY news reports or the 6 p.m. WPTZ or WCAX newscast to get the first report. The next morning, the Press-Republican published a story on whatever happened.

That's not at all how journalism works anymore. We all have had websites for years, where we can report the news soon after it happens. And you can read it on your PC or tablet or have it delivered directly to your mobile phone.

The output of news continues throughout the day, 365 days a year. On Christmas Day, for example, there was no print Press-Republican — the only day we don't publish a newspaper. But there were two fires in the area, and you could read about what happened at

The ability to get news online immediately carries an inherent danger: When something has just happened, details are sketchy. It's easy to get incomplete information from officials who are themselves just starting to sort out what is going on.

The Press-Republican staff has firm orders not to put anything online that hasn't been verified by a solid source — even if that means we get beat by other news media. Accuracy is far more important to us than bragging rights.

We publish a "First Box" on some of our stories, and that has been misinterpreted, at times. The weekly Plattsburgh newspaper called The Burgh, for example, took a shot at the Press-Republican in an editorial a couple of months ago because they had posted a particular story online before the time listed in our "First Box."

The boxes say: "We had this first online at (time) yesterday." By that, we don't mean we beat all the other media in the area. We would have to check the website of every news organization in three counties to know that. We definitely don't have the time — or, frankly, the inclination — to do that.

The First Box means simply that the time listed is when the Press-Republican first published the story. It's just a reminder to our readers that they don't have to wait until the paper arrives at their door to know what it happening. To make it more clear, from now on we will say: "We first had this online at (time) yesterday."

We have the biggest staff of journalists in the region, and they are spread over three New York counties. We feel pretty confident that we can get the news to readers online in a timely manner.

We know we often deliver the news first, but we also know it's not a race.

Email Lois Clermont at: