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Glenn Halbrooks

Oops! Radio Station Reports Death of Former President George H.W. Bush

By January 2, 2013

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Of all the mistakes that can be made in media, one of the worst is reporting the death of someone who's still very much alive. According to reports, that's just what happened at WBAP, a news/talk radio station in Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas.

A photo former President George H.W. Bush
Despite a report to the contrary, former President George H.W. Bush is still very much alive.
Photo © Getty Images
It mistakenly reported the death of former President George H.W. Bush. The report didn't go out over the air, but through a breaking news email alert. A correction was sent out shortly afterward.

The Dallas Observer talked with a station official about the chain of events that led to the mistake. Apparently, an obituary had been prepared just in case, but a problem unknowingly sent an email blast on Bush's death.

WBAP isn't just any fly-by-night radio outfit. It is a heritage station in a major market with call letters known nationwide and a history that dates to 1922.

This goof demonstrates a common problem in today's media. While a radio or TV station has control over what goes out over the air, and a newspaper or magazine can control its print editions, that power shrinks when it comes to sending out information online.

That's because when a media company builds its brand online, it typically turns to tools from outside companies -- an email blast service, Twitter or Facebook. If there's a glitch in the software or operator error, there can be unintended consequences. We've probably all accidently sent an email that wasn't ready to go.

That appears to be what happened at WBAP. If the station truly thought Bush had died, it would've reported it on the air.

But this case is a good example of why you should review how you store content that's not ready to be released. It's common to pre-file an obituary of a well-known person. Just make sure that person doesn't see his own obit while he's still on this Earth. You might get a phone call.

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