January 22, 2013

Washingtonian magazine’s Sophie Gilbert won’t wait for a call back next time. Gilbert emailed the spokesperson for the Marine Corps Band Monday after determining the Marine Corps Band “wasn’t actually playing during the song” when Beyoncé performed the National Anthem at this week’s inaugural ceremony, she wrote in a blog post published Tuesday morning. She didn’t hear back. “I should have followed up by phone this morning,” Gilbert writes in an email to Poynter. “Lesson learned.”

The Times of London’s D.C. bureau ran with the scoop: Nico Hines called the Marine Corps Band, got the answer, and slapped a big “Exclusive” on his story, which has rocketed around social media Tuesday despite being mostly hidden behind a paywall.

The Times’ Matt Spence credited The Washingtonian and Gilbert on Twitter after his news org’s piece went up, but the mechanics of how their scoop happened say a lot about how there’s no scoop too narrow to compete on when you’re vying with other reporters for social media views.

Monday: Washingtonian Editor Garrett M. Graff emails Gilbert at 5:58 p.m., saying he thought the band was miming when he watched the inauguration from a press section earlier in the day. He was seated near the Marine Band on the inaugural platform during Monday’s ceremony, he told Poynter by phone. The section is below the podium (Graff took the photo that appeared with Gilbert’s piece). “It’s a very funny area to be for the inauguration because you are stunningly close but almost literally can’t see anything,” he said.

Graff is a fan of the band and said he was surprised he couldn’t hear them playing during Beyoncé’s number. Gilbert was watching on TV at her home in Washington and says her husband, John Wilwol, had noticed Beyoncé looked like she was lip-synching, too. She contacted the Marine Corps Band, and filed the piece at 6:15 p.m. hoping she’d have a quote to insert by the morning.

Tuesday: Gilbert still hasn’t heard back from the Marine Corps Band. She tried Beyoncé’s publicist as well as a flack for the Presidential Inauguration Committee. At 10:10 a.m., Washingtonian publishes the piece, which asks whether Beyoncé lip-synched, and both Gilbert and her boss tweet out a link:



Matt Drudge links to Washingtonian. The Times’ Nico Hines notices, too:


And follows with his piece at 11:28 EST (4:28 p.m. GMT):


The Times didn’t credit Washingtonian in its initial piece, Gilbert said. Matt Spence of the paper’s D.C. bureau told Poynter in an email that Wednesday’s print edition will credit the magazine. Drudge later linked to the Times piece.

After the Times piece went up, a Marine Corps Band spokesperson called Gilbert back. “She did say they were extraordinarily busy this morning,” Gilbert said by phone. “We were lucky to get the story up first,” Graff said.

“I’m frankly surprised that no one else had observed or noted it before we did. There were…probably 50 to 60 reporters seated as close or closer to the Marine Band as I was. So I’m bummed that the Times was able to confirm it first, but they got the confirmation first and we followed close thereafter.”

Gilbert’s philosophical about losing her scoop: “That’s the thing, we didn’t have confirmation,” she said. “We’re still getting incredible traffic.”

Graff confirms the site’s traffic is way up — more than 35 times its usual number of visitors at one point this morning — and says the lip-synching story was “the perfect Twitter scoop.”

“This is like the epitome of the really small-stakes story that matters to everyone for the hour or two it takes to digest,” he said, “and then does not fundamentally change anything ever.”

Though maybe not:


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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
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