The Boston Bombing and the National Media
Over the past week, we’ve sat glued to the TV screens, watching CNN or Fox News, scouring social media and news outlets for updates on the Boston Marathon bombing. I’ve sat watching how this information is being delivered, discussed it in class with peers and professors, critiqued and downright criticized some of the mistakes, and also looked at how my classmates and myself, the future of journalism, will cover breaking news events where the desire to be first sometimes supersedes the desire to be right.
Social media and the internet have changed the way we view, capture and deliver news. That certainly isn’t ground breaking information, but it changes the way we do our jobs. The “2-source-to-publish” rule of thumb has been tossed out the window. Confirmations are few and far between, especially during breaking news, and news outlets compete in a rat race to get a new tidbit up before their competitors.
Our ethics, as media, have developed even in the past years, more so then they have in the previous 40. It’s gotten to a point where the news cycle is so instantaneous that there isn’t time for fact-checking. The news cycle isn’t even a cycle anymore, it’s a constant flow of information being jammed down our throats. That being said, with this constant source of new information, and the potential to be the “exclusive” or “breaking story”, outlets have made a history of releasing information that was completely inaccurate or pure speculation, void of any actual fact.
What that has done for the industry, is create a culture of information hyenas looking to have their byline released ahead of everyone else. The ambulance chaser can now sit on his smart phone and file stories, tweet updates, and contact sources all from one location. Instead of actually going out to find the information first hand, the news-gathering has been shrunk to a small screen in the palm of our hands. We don’t go out to the scene as much as before, because we don’t need to.
But because we don’t go out to the scene, to find and develop the news firsthand, we are forced to rely on 2nd hand news sources. This is a derivative of a need to be first, and the new technology that has allowed us to stay stationary. Sometimes these 2nd hand news sources could be (and have proven to be) inaccurate, and now the credibility and necessity of journalists is in question. We are stuck in a cold war of speed and accuracy, and speed is winning by a landslide.
A majority of the discussion against the national media dealt with CNN’s release of the information regarding the supposed suspects. On Tuesday morning they jumped at a “law enforcement source”, saying that they had the suspect, and named the suspect. It turned out the alleged suspect was actually the Chinese national who was a victim of Monday’s bombing. They tried to back peddle, but the story had already been out there and at one point the anchors were struggling to piece together what was “confirmed” and “alleged”.
But can we really blame them? News outlets rely on sources on a regular basis, some of which they’ve developed years of relationships with. They’re trusted, and hopefully reliable, and in a situation like this they’re crucial to advance a news story. Yes, we have a job to do, a duty to get the information right. But 10 seconds delay could make a difference between being the most watched outlet and the one struggling to gain viewers. I’ve said it before, gatekeepers don’t exist anymore. If you don’t publish a new piece of information, someone else will.