MEDIA BRANDS: The Wall Street Journal's coverage of Grasso magnifies the need to act quickly in a crisis

The moment that the board members of the New York Stock Exchange emerged from the emergency meeting that sealed the fate of embattled CEO Richard Grasso last month, they could have read about their own actions from The Wall Street Journal's website. Or from Dow Jones Newswires. Or from CNBC. Or from a number of other business news outlets that had picked up on the Journal's scoop.

The moment that the board members of the New York Stock Exchange emerged from the emergency meeting that sealed the fate of embattled CEO Richard Grasso last month, they could have read about their own actions from The Wall Street Journal's website. Or from Dow Jones Newswires. Or from CNBC. Or from a number of other business news outlets that had picked up on the Journal's scoop.

The news that Grasso resigned weeks after a controversy emerged over his exorbitant payouts had spread across the globe in mere minutes, a wildfire made possible first by good, old-fashioned source development and, second, by something called the Speedy system. Speedy, as Dave Kansas, acting editor of the Journal's Money and Investing section, explains it, "is an e-mail setup where a Wall Street Journal reporter can send a headline, or a headline and story, or a whole story to one address and it gets automatically distributed out to Dow Jones Newswires, Wall Street Journal Online, and CNBC." Such a system gives a hugely influential outlet like the Journal even more reach that it can tap as soon as news breaks, especially on a story being watched as closely as was Grasso's downfall. So, when WSJ reporter Susanne Craig learned from sources during the emergency meeting that Grasso quit, she was able to file a story that was widely distributed in no time, beating competitors like Bloomberg and Reuters by "between two and five minutes," as a congratulatory internal memo circulated in the scoop's wake put it. The memo, which charted minute-by-minute how coverage of the story unfolded, demonstrated how scoops are no longer measured in days or even hours, but in minutes. "It shows that on big, important stories, a newspaper like The Wall Street Journal can't think about the next morning's paper, but has to think in multi-dimensional ways," Kansas says, alluding to the newswires and website, as well as CNBC, its TV partner. "We have many places to go in a real-time environment, and that's a very important part of the modern-day competition for reporters." What it also should show is how quickly news can spiral out of control for any entity under fire. Crisis-management doctrine holds that those in trouble should reveal as much as possible as quickly as possible, a tenet that's become more important as news cycles have been accelerated by technology. This should be especially obvious in a day when the far-reaching real-time power of the internet is far from novel. But, by all appearances, the importance of time in crisis context was lost on Grasso's handlers. The September 29 PRWeek Analysis demonstrated how Grasso's leisurely approach to releasing specifics of his financial arrangements translated into an appearance of secrecy and spelled doom. Given this, it's fitting that the end of Grasso's story unfolded on a global basis in just slightly more time than it takes to send an e-mail. -matthew.creamer@prweek.com

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