There’s a small universe of people who’ve ever heard of Aereo. There’s an even smaller universe of people who appreciate what was at stake in today’s Supreme Court ruling that essentially guts the company’s business strategy. As Mother Jones titled a post on the matter: “The Supreme Court Just Decided an Internet Case No One Understands.”
For the record, the court ruled against Aereo’s model of picking up signals from broadcasters and streaming them to subscribers without paying retransmission fees.
Even though the ruling is a big deal primarily for TV-media-Internet nerds, hey, this is late June at the Supreme Court. Time for Supreme Court journalists to compete against the clock for commodity news!
Per tradition, the Supreme Court starts announcing its rulings at 10:00 a.m. sharp. A scramble ensues, as reporters tear through the documents in search of pivotal signposts, all in the hopes of generating a headline lickety-split. Last year, in a landmark gay marriage case, that process took just seconds.
In today’s proceedings, Justice Stephen Breyer announced the Aereo decision after another case. Once he got to the Internet start-up, the race was on.
According to Bloomberg News, it surfaced a headline on its terminals at 10:08 a.m. Killer competition came from the much-admired SCOTUSBlog. Though this outfit may not be able to get press credentials for its people, it’s not because it can’t do quick turnaround on the news.
SCOTUSBlog had the goods at 10:09:
Breaking: in Aereo -2d Circuit is reversed: Aereo is illegal because it engages in public performances.
— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) June 25, 2014
Ruling time at the Supreme Court is Greg Stohr. He’s the high court correspondent from Bloomberg News, and for two straight years, the Erik Wemple Blog has been writing about his heroics in beating the field on the Obamacare decision (2012) and the gay marriage rulings (2013), an event for which he had prepared 18 ledes.
Stohr’s quick work — that 10:08 headline — fed into a Bloomberg TV report that aired at 10:09:14 a.m., according to the Erik Wemple Blog’s TV monitoring service. Here’s how Bloomberg TV looked just six seconds after announcing the breaking news:
Where’s the chyron, Bloomberg TV? And can’t we get some better visuals for a story involving retransmission fees? Maybe not.
Now for a look at the rest of the field.
10:11: Wall Street Journal surfaces a reference to the decision on its Web site, according to spokesperson Colleen Schwartz.
10:11:25: CNBC reports the news, citing SCOTUSblog:
10:15 a.m.: USA Today publishes its breaking-news piece on the ruling. Politics editor Paul Singer tells the Erik Wemple Blog that reporter Richard Wolf and editor Linda Kauss have taken to “building B-matter” for these rulings “so that they can publish full stories very quickly.” Further, Singer says the paper content management system, which dates to September 2012, is geared to be “much quicker to publish than the old system, which was really designed more for print purposes.”
10:16: The Associated Press issues this alert: “WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court rules against Internet startup Aereo in copyright fight with broadcasters.”
10:20 a.m.: Fox News broadcasts the news.
10:22: The New York Times publishes its breaking-news story.
10:23: CNN jumps in via a three-way discussion with anchor Carol Costello, media correspondent Brian Stelter and legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Fans of grievous media error may recall that CNN in 2012 botched the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Obamacare case, advising viewers that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate was toast, when in fact it was constitutionally healthy. CNN being CNN, everyone reacted with extensive scolding and tweeting seeded with glee. For the following year’s gay marriage ruling, the network proceeded with caution, allowing its competitors to break the news. That policy appears to be in effect to this day, though CNN wouldn’t have faced a viewer upheaval if it had waited even longer to broadcast this abstruse bit of news.
Our sturdy, cable-news-divided Republic will survive if it has to wait a few additional minutes to find out the fate of a streaming service. Yet the filing times of news outlets on Supreme Court decisions fascinate this blog because the playing field is so level. When news breaks on other institutions — say, a senator retires or a company declares bankruptcy — reporters can get an early jump one way or the other. At the high court, everyone sets out from the same starting line. It’s journalism meets track and field, and the winners feel equally jubilant.