Sunday would not have been a good day for Muhammad Ali to die, from the standpoint of the San Francisco Chronicle’s editors.
With the city’s San Francisco 49ers playing in the Super Bowl and the newspaper mobilized accordingly, Sunday’s rumors of Ali’s impending demise were greatly exasperating.
The arc of the Ali rumor, which briefly had Chronicle editors mentally re-designing Page One, starkly illustrated the drawbacks of anointing the dot.com news operations the equal of the supposedly dying print dailies. By the time others in the newsroom were getting wind of the Ali thing, I had already been scornful of the thinly-considered online piece from Great Britain (?) and had found credible newspaper reports to the contrary -- that Ali was home in Arizona clad in a Baltimore Ravens t-shirt watching the Super Bowl. I convinced everyone it was a non-story.
The New York Post account of the non-story is the one commended here. And here’s the Sun’s story that propelled the rumors, abetted greatly by top-of-the-lineup billing from yahoo.com. and others. (Kudos, by the way, to philboxing.com for ignoring the whole thing.)
Ironically, the Post is some journalists’ whipping boy for the scurrilous end of the newspaper biz, yet it’s a well-edited publication and it is careful about most of its content -- certainly compared to all the too-early-to-report stuff that online writers have to produce because frequent publication is such a vital component of amassing readership numbers.
There’s no way to yank the story when it proves weak and no hurry to yank the promos, either, so the rumors sometimes take hold hours after the story is debunked. Is that any way to run an alleged news operation?
Even on this Sunday, of all Sundays, you can be sure Ali’s death would have been a Page One story in the Chronicle, and I would have gotten my wish to play a significant role in the Ali obituary’s editing.
There’s a lot to be said for editing. It’s the missing component in too much of what passes for news these days.