In last Monday’s lecture we discussed how journalists covered the Boston Marathon bombing. In particular, we focused on social media’s role in how the bombing and the subsequent manhunt were covered.  

I for one was glued to Twitter as the events unfolded, particularly during the manhunt. I am a total night-owl, so I was up refreshing my feed constantly, trying to get the latest information. 

But not all of that information was correct. In fact, a lot of it was dead wrong. People were quick to proclaim “old media” dead and crown Reddit as the new disseminator of information after they supposedly correctly identified the perpetrators of the bombings. But Reddit was 100% wrong. To borrow from Mark Twain: the reports of “traditional media”‘s death are greatly exaggerated. 

Another source of misinformation came from scanners. The internet has given the public unprecedented access to police and fire/rescue scanners, but the public seems to take scanner chatter as gospel, something which it isn’t. Some journalists tweeted scanner traffic as well, while others refrained from doing so. I admit, I was tempted to (and may actually have before I realized how problematic it was) retweeted journalists who reported scanner speculation. After all, when a journalist reports speculation without clearly stating that it is speculation, how are we to know that it is speculation and not fact? To be trusted by the public, we need to avoid tweeting scanner chatter just to be “first” or “current.” Being right is much more important than that.  

I think the best coverage came from local media. The Boston Globe and Boston television stations really shined last week, both through traditional and social media. And I liked how those two elements were combined. I watched online streams of local coverage from WHDH and WBZ in Boston, and paid close attention to the Globe’s Twitter feed and website. I like how the internet has made local media accessible to the world, because during major news events like this, local media are usually the ones who know their area best. 

National media did not do as well. CNN was lampooned by Jon Stewart (among others) for its error-filled coverage. The New York Post was rightfully criticized for its poor coverage.

But it was not all bad for national media. NBC’s Pete Williams was widely praised for his coverage. I liked how NBC and CBS (the two networks whose coverage I watched on TV) integrated local affiliate coverage into theirs. I think it showed that they were more concerned about getting information out to their viewers rather than worrying about being the ones to give that information out, if that makes sense. Deferring to local affiliates was, in a way, an “ego-less” move for the networks.

I’ll (kind of) repeat what I said a few paragraphs back. As the journalism adage goes: “No one remembers who was first, but everyone remembers who was wrong.”

Looking at you, CNN…

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