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'Battlestar Galactica' a shock to some readers

January 19, 2009 |  5:20 pm

Fans of "Battlestar Galactica" were angry about Saturday's story in Calendar, and if you haven't seen the show that aired Friday, do not read the second half of this post. Here was one of the more civil comments: "If you had half a brain (which it is clear you do not), you would have had some sort of spoiler alert in the headline and no photo.  Seriously people, get a clue."

Also among the less-insulting notes was this: "On the front page of your Saturday edition Calendar section, you published a major spoiler about the episode of 'Battlestar Galactica' that aired the night before. I had not had an opportunity to view the show yet, and had been trying to avoid learning any secrets about the show until I did so. The article had no spoiler warning, and included a photograph that ensured that even a casual glance would give the secret away. I am a long-time Times subscriber and do not read your paper to have my enjoyment of TV shows ruined. This was an incredibly stupid and inconsiderate thing to do."

Seriously, if you don't want to know, please don't read on.

It was an interview with actress Kate Vernon that included passages that even people who weren't fans could recognize as breaking news crucial to a popular show. The key passage was: "Vernon, you see, is the final Cylon, a fact revealed Friday night on the acclaimed Sci Fi television series 'Battlestar Galactica.' That makes her the solution to a mystery that has played out like some latter-day science fiction version of the 'Who Shot J.R.?' saga, but, unlike that old 'Dallas' plotline, this one unfolded in an Internet Age and with a rabid-fan audience clawing for clues."

The story went on: "Their identities have been slowly revealed, and, Friday night, to the shock of viewers, the last sleeper turned out to be Vernon's Ellen."

Given that it was a shock to viewers watching Friday night, did editors give special consideration to how to play it in Saturday's paper? And given reader annoyance, would editors do it differently if they had to do it again?

Yes and no.

As an earlier post on this journal said, there are limits to how long editors will hold off on printing information about plot points in movies and books that might spoil it for readers and viewers.

"We really did think about it, but the story was too good to pass up for the few people who would inevitably be mad at us," says TV editor Kate Aurthur. She explained: "Entertainment journalism is a competitive medium, and this was a huge exclusive scoop for us. We took great pains to make sure it didn't export to the Web early by accident, and even held the Web version up so it published after the episode aired Pacific Time (letting our East Coast competitors perhaps get the jump on us, but out of consideration for Sci Fi's wishes and our core readers in California)." As for a reader who sarcastically asked if editors were aware that some readers record shows to watch later, Aurthur responds, "Though we certainly know that many readers have DVRs, we can't hold back on our coverage when something very important happens on a show people love. We must assume that people who care the most watch in real time, or close to it."

Lee Margulies was the editor who approved the story and photo going in Saturday's Calendar. Wrote Margulies, "I second what Kate has said: In the world of entertainment journalism, the identity of the fifth Cylon was news as soon as the show had its public telecast, and we wanted to be competitive with other newspapers and websites. We did know in advance and agreed not to disclose the information so that fans had the opportunity to experience it for themselves, but once the show was aired, the topic was fair game for discussion. At that point, it becomes the consumer's responsibility to avoid the discussion if he or she doesn't want to hear it.

"It's been decades now that people have had the capacity to record television programs for delayed viewing; they should have learned by now that if they choose to do so, they must also accept the responsibility of abstaining from any media that might be reporting on the program, be it a sports result or a development on their favorite series."

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