National Post columnist Andrew Coyne had a pre-written column about the Alberta election, one that turned out to be wildly at odds with the final result.
It was un-published.
Unlike 1948 (“Dewey defeats Truman” – Bill D.), there wasn’t a glaringly incorrect headline that will live on in history. But there were missteps, and in one notable case the election column of a prominent national columnist, Andrew Coyne, was pulled from the Internet and print editions. (Along with Coyne, another contributor to the National Post had to eat a little crow the day after. There were others.)
“Unless something astonishing happens,” Coyne’s column began, “the Wildrose Party will form the next government of Alberta.”
He called the Wildrose win astonishing, adding that in victory it “will have taken down one of the most powerful political empires in the country’s history.”
The column ran on the front page, above the fold of early editions of the National Post with the headline, “Wildrose changed political game.”
“Unless something astonishing happens,” I wrote in my last column, “the Wildrose Party will form the next government of Alberta.” With the benefit of hindsight, I can only say, how right I was. Something astonishing did happen, with precisely the consequence I implied: Wildrose will not form the next government of Alberta. Rather, Alberta will be governed by yet another massive Progressive Conservative majority. I don’t mean to gloat, but I feel some bragging rights are in order.
Alas, my editor and I agreed the column had to be pulled, as everything else in it was based on the opposite premise. Still, you can’t argue the results weren’t astonishing.
From Poynter columnist Craig Silverman:
Based on Coyne’s tweet Monday night, his first column had been published online by 7 p.m. EDT. According to the time stamp of his second column, roughly 24 hours passed before it went online Tuesday.
In the meantime, there was as far as I could see no communication from the National Post or its owner Postmedia explaining what had happened with the first column. The closest that Coyne came was a tweet Monday night saying, “Um, I think this counts as ‘something astonishing.’ ” …
Online readers also were not directed to the new column once it was online. People clicking on links to Coyne’s first column, and those who found it via search, ended up on an error page. (If you’re interested in more about the ethics and practices of unpublishing content, Poynter has information here and here.)
On Twitter I suggested to Coyne that the newspaper publish an editor’s note or apology. Coyne and a top editor at one of his employer’s Web properties disagreed, as did a former colleague of Coyne’s.
Firstly, I think this shows the dangers of writing speculative columns to match print deadlines.
Deadlines are a reality in the newspaper game, but once such an error is made, my preference would be for the news organization to admit it, explain it and then move on.
Just hoping no one will notice looks … fishy.
Read the whole Poynter column. Silverman Storified some Twitter convo about the topic. It’s instructive.