News Outlets: Only You Can Prevent Spoilers

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Here is a classy way to break news of Olympic victory:

spoilertweets615.jpg

And here are a few examples of non-classy ways:

Just kidding. I'm not going to do that to you, in part because I too am avoiding what lies on the other side of that link. But by the looks of my Twitter feed right now, and the cries emitting from deep within The Atlantic's offices, lots of other news sites pushed that news right out there, without giving people the option -- click or not click, expand an Olympics coverage box or hide it. If you want to preserve the suspense for the delayed broadcast later this evening, best of luck to you. It's a mine-field out there.

But in contrast with the difficulty of avoiding specific pieces of information being pushed at you left and right -- in apps and tweets, news headlines and breaking-news emails -- the tweet from @BreakingNews demonstrates how easy it is for news organizations to avoid creating that mine-field in the first place. Sure, the news cycle is fast and full and no one expects news organizations to simply hold up all their information in compliance with NBC's frustrating/infuriating/outdated delayed broadcast, but as the @BreakingNews tweet (and, I'm happy to see, @TheAtlanticWire's as well) shows, these mediums do not necessitate spoilers. Just because we have tweets doesn't mean all the news needs to go in them; just because we have email alerts doesn't mean we have to put the news -- news we know people are trying to avoid -- in the top headlines. (Note: Homepages are different than emails and tweets because they require that users *go* to them. Emails and tweets come at you, and unless you turned off all your devices, you're just about guaranteed to see them). 

The bottom line is that it's a lot harder for readers to avoid spoilers than for media organizations to craft ways to give people a choice. There are easy ways to convey information without ruining the suspense for those trying to preserve it. We are not bound to the norms of our communication technologies; we are only bound to the failures of our imaginations should we try to do otherwise.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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