Wednesday, September 2, 2009

From "Internet steals minister's thunder" to "Pre-empted by the Internet"

Our press really needs to review its work flow for online publishing. Once again, has published a piece of article, then decided it was not exactly politically correct and then decided to remove and replace with another "correct" article. All this while thinking that their readers could not tell the difference. Or could they?

The original article is as shown below (thanks to Google Cache) and if you so desire, you could compare it with the new article "Pre-empted by the Internet" to play the Spot-the-Difference game. Yes they changed the title as well, guess it is not very polite to say openly that something has been stolen from our minister.

However one will have to agree that the original article is much more interesting, especially the part where somebody screamed "You cannot run the story, you cannot break the embargo, you cannot do anything!".

Internet steals minister's thunder
September 01, 2009 Tuesday, 04:16 PM

Christopher Tan discusses the red faces and frayed nerves of a recent news leak

NEWS of the enhanced off-peak car (OPC) scheme is probably talk of the motoring town now.

But an unfortunate incident leading up to the announcement of the new and improved scheme – designed to persuade car owners to convert their rides to red-plates – proved to be far more exciting to the newsroom last Friday night.

It all began at a closed-door briefing for journalists held by the Land Transport Authority on Friday afternoon. It was to allow beat reporters to understand the upcoming changes to the scheme and to ask questions.

The announcement itself was to have been made public by none other than Transport Minister Raymond Lim at a ministerial visit on Sunday.

But that was not to be. Thanks to a mysterious and virulent news leak, which happened despite all precautions.

Before the LTA briefing started, reporters were instructed clearly that the news was strictly embargoed until after Minister Lim had spoken.

And that no one was supposed to call motor industry players for comments, in case they inadvertently informed them of the changes.

We were also told that we could not bring any recording devices into the briefing room. And no cameras either.

The briefing went reasonably well, and reporters returned to give a rundown to their supervisors.

But by around 8.30pm or so that same day, the entire news release detailing all the changes was online.

The Straits Times was alerted to the leak by someone who spotted it on an online car forum, which had a direct link to an LTA site.

Within an hour, the entire motor trade – as well as a large part of the car forum community – had learnt of the changes.

One senior motor trader even called up reporters to ask if they had heard of the new scheme.

The Straits Times newsroom was shocked, and everyone scrambled to find out what had happened and whether the news should then be run the next day (Saturday), as the leak had already spread far and wide.

The LTA was equally shocked. It could not explain how the news appeared on their website. Up until Tuesday, the authority says it was still investigating.

The authority's panic was palpable. After all, the leak had stolen the thunder from a Minister's Sunday speech. A mortal sin in the civil service.

A new and fairly senior LTA executive was rather curt when The Straits Times asked if the newspaper could run the story on Saturday.

"You cannot run the story, you cannot break the embargo, you cannot do anything!" she ordered a reporter over the phone.

But eventually, the LTA, together with the Ministry of Transport, decided to lift the embargo on Saturday. Which meant that the media could go out with the news on Sunday.

It also meant that Minister Lim did not have a biggish annoucement to make during his Sunday ministerial visit to Bukit Panjang.

Mr Lim was gracious enough to agree to the embargo lift. Fortunately, he had another announcement up his sleeve: an update about the Circle Line.

Many of us (at least those of us in the newsroom) can laugh about the fiasco now, but it caused real tension on Friday with just hours to go before deadline.

The episode also underscores the impact of online information – once again.

In the past, news leaks were relatively mild – one could only rely on phones and the coffeeshop. But with the Internet, a leak takes on a life of its own. Within minutes, it is literally all over town.

Unless the LTA finds out how this one happened, it runs the risk of an encore down the road.



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