BREAKING: Every time a nationally broadcasted disaster occurs, we are reminded of the shortcomings of mass media, particularly the need to get the facts first… even if they’re not correct. But we need answers. We crave crave imMEDIAcy.
April was full of a lot of shocking headlines, and the Boston Marathon bombings certainly caught the attention of the nation. As a member of the Massachusetts media, I was on especially high alert during the event, and as someone living not too far from the happenings, I was pretty shaken up. Still, in the aftermath of all of this, I can’t help but try to shed some light on the issue — not the act, but the response.
It’s All CNN’s Fault… Right? After the TV news station’s premature report that officials had a suspect in custody, CNN was blasted for their incorrect reporting. This type of thing happens every time. It’s just a question of who will blow it first. But here, we can’t honestly point the finger at CNN.
The (not always) all-knowing wire service that is the Associated Press (AP) was first to tweet the false news. CNN just picked it up first. After them, a domino-effect of reporting — the New York Times (and ALLLL the media outlets they own, including the Boston Globe) and others including the one I work for, as the report trickled down from the source. In these modern times, and especially these times of tragedy and FBI searching, the audience is waiting. And newsrooms have to put out something. It’s that immediate craving for an answer that drives us to hasty decisions and CNN to a bad rap. Thanks, AP.
Sources? It’s a Secret. In that same vein, my mind was puzzled by a local TV station. The Wednesday following the event, newscasters in the area were still on 24-hour watch, showing a pretty boring shot of the Boston courthouse, rambling about potential leads, photos, etc. The area held their breath. And during that time, after the CNN misstep, one newscaster raised the question — “And you’re probably wondering. You hear us say all the time ‘our sources… our sources,’ but who are these sources we’re mentioning?” If only she had answered the question.
The newscaster and her sidekick stumbled around the answer, saying they didn’t want to give up too much about their secret methods. Anonymity never made any journalist look good, per se, but these anchors were clearly not prepared for the can of worms they had just accidentally opened. I’m sure “their sources” were on the right side of the misreported suspects, too.
Police Scanners During a crazy, frightening, unexpected event like the Boston Marathon bombing, responses can be impulsive. During the Watertown manhunt on Friday, tens of thousands turned to local police scanners, as the independent journo in all local citizens came out. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this practice, police scanners (harboring sometimes unverified information) plus Twitter, can make for some spotty, quickly spread information. (The general theme here.)
Scanners were eventually shut off to online listeners… and good thing. Just take a look at that screen grab via someone I follow on Twitter. Watertown, Wisconsin. Oh, the imMEDIAcy.