Amy Davidson, whose Close Read blog is one of the best things happening on the Internet right now (ranking somewhere between Grantland’s Mad Men Power Rankings and AMC’s “Mad Men Yourself”), posted a very insightful piece on the recent misreporting of the ACA decision by both Fox News and CNN. Her analysis of what led to the reporting errors on both those networks got me thinking about frequent moments in my own work.

In essence, Davidson suggests that in their frantic rush to “break the story”, both Fox News and CNN reporters failed to “turn the page”: they found their answer, more or less, without asking themselves what questions they truly needed to answer (in this case, they saw that the “individual mandate” had been considered unconstitutional, without realizing the balance of the decision hung with the question of Congress’ taxing power).

We need to attack the information we receive with a clear and holistic sense of purpose.

As a communicator, I find myself spending a lot of time waiting for information to come down. For instance, after an important executive leadership meeting, there can be a rush to push follow-up communications deep into the organization. In these situations, once the meeting room breaks, we find ourselves frantically thumbing through presentation decks and speaker notes, while getting fast & furious downloads from participants in the room. With the pace and the noise and the pressure, the real story of the meeting is often anything but clear.

In these situations, the most important thing we can do is spend our waiting time truly clarifying content and understanding all the questions that may demand answers. We need to attack the information we receive with a clear and holistic sense of purpose.

Information often arrives in shapes and volumes that make rapid communications difficult. When that happens, without proper, thoughtful preparation, it’s easy to form biases and patch together stories that fit preconceived notion. If we strive to prepare our questions in a thorough, diligent, and neutral way, we are much more likely to report the story that matters.