Edwards Headline Issue
For 51 seconds on Thursday afternoon, washingtonpost.com had an erroneous headline on our home page related to the John Edwards press conference. The headline said, "John Edwards Suspends White House Bid." I wanted to explain how that occurred, and discuss an error I made after we found out what had happened.
As we waited for the press conference to begin, our home page editor was planning a new home page that would be published quickly upon learning the status of the Edwards campaign after the anticipated revelation that Elizabeth Edwards's breast cancer had recurred. As is the standard process when we're trying to prepare for multiple scenarios, we plugged a headline into our home page tool that we believed to be the most likely scenario. As you can see from this screen shot of the inaccurate page, the text underneath the headline said, "Democratic presidential hopeful cuts short bid to focus on health of his wife battling cancer. Former White House hopeful drops second bid to focus on health of his wife battling cancer." That's because we were preparing for the campaign to be suspended or ended, and were waiting for the press conference for official word. Then, Edwards announced he would continue with his campaign, and we pushed out a page with the headline, "Edwards: Wife's Cancer Is Back."
A few hours later, we saw a tipster on DC FishBowl had mentioned we'd published a bad headline. At that point, we were unaware -- and, in fact, rather doubtful -- that we had published any page that included bad information. But, after seeing that report, I asked the home page team to look into it. They plowed through our home page publishing archive and found that, for reasons still unknown, the bad page was indeed published out at 12:32:20, and replaced by the page with the headline, "Edwards: Wife's Cancer Is Back" at 12:33:11, meaning the bad page was live for 51 seconds. They reported this information to me, and we sent an e-mail to the group that manages the home page tool to ask how that bad page might have been published. We still don't know why this publish occurred.
I originally wrote this off as one of those minor publishing snafus that occasionally happen in the Web business, largely because it had been up less than a minute, and wasn't a journalistic error but a technical one. Nonetheless, it was an embarrassing error, and I apologize for the fact it happened. The Post's Howard Kurtz just posted an article on this issue.
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