Mike Wise, Twitter, And The Art Of Breaking News

This morning Wise announced his monthlong suspension from the Washington Post for his fake Twitter "scoop" that was intended to sucker other outlets into publishing it. In the end, his failing wasn't underestimating the media, but rather misunderstanding the medium.

A month seems fair, right? Wise did something very, very bad, but it was obviously meant to be more of a joke, or an experiment, than a maliciously false piece of news. While Mike Florio, who's been leading the pitchforks-and-torches mob, still thinks Wise should have been fired, Dan Levy rightly points out that this isn't a Jayson Blair situation.

Wise didn't give the sports world enough credit. He expected that after his Tweet, everyone would run with his news that Ben Roethlisberger's suspension would be pegged at 5 games. Instead, it barely got any traction on Twitter, and the media outlets that did report it credited him in full. That's exactly how news is supposed to break: the original source gets credited until other reporters can confirm it independently. The system worked.

Wise had said, by explanation, that he wanted to show how an unsourced Tweet, that anyone could write, would be parroted as fact. That's the problem. When Wise wasn't looking, Twitter became a fairly mainstream way of breaking news. Reporters for the big media conglomerates routinely break news on Twitter, before filing their columns on the matter. When doing the postmortem for a story, it's standard to credit the scoop to whoever Tweeted it first. In 2010, Twitter is a perfectly legitimate medium to announce news.

Wise also said that he never breaks news on his Twitter, so people shouldn't have believed him. That shows a fundamental disconnect, because of all the people who heard the Roethlisberger news, how many of them actually follow his Twitter account? In an age of retweeting and reblogging and aggregating, that's not how it works.

Possibly the worst part of this is Mike Wise not realizing what his credibility meant. Sure, any schmo could announce some made-up news. But they'll be ignored unless they've got a history of being right. Wise, with his years of experience and the Washington Post name behind him, has credibility. Had credibility.

He's lost that for a while, at least until we all move on to the next piñata (Cowlishaw, you're off the hook now). Even without an unscheduled month off, Wise got his punishment.