In the aftermath of the week-long media coverage of the Boston marathon bombings, many questions have arisen about the role of media in breaking news stories, and how things are different from just a few years ago.
I was one of those people who followed the story closely from the bombings on Monday until Suspect #2 was captured Friday night. I watched the story on TV, followed blogs and live updates online, and scoured the internet for any news I could find. Along the way, I received a lot of misinformation (some of which I passed on to other people). Yet, in the end, I was happy to be informed about each development. It was difficult to take my eyes off the screen as I watched the story unfold live on Friday night when the younger brother was captured. Looking back on the week and how it was covered in the media, there are definitely some issues to consider and some takeaways for the future:
Are Cable and Network TV news still relevant?
Are people still getting their news from traditional sources or are they turning to social media? It seems that, despite the role of social and digital media in news
gathering and sharing, people are still turning to TV. The cable news networks saw huge numbers last week when they aired near-constant coverage of the bombings and the aftermath. According the Medialife, 10 of the top 20 shows on cable last week aired on Friday on CNN and Fox News, all of which had to do with Boston bombing coverage.
Furthermore, 46 million viewers tuned into broadcast and cable on Friday night to see the capture. Despite the speed at which digital media operates, there is still an appeal to TV. On Friday night, viewers could watch the capture of the suspect live on TV and actually see the story unfold. This is something that probably won’t change anytime in the near future, despite the increase in digital news sources.
News Errors and the Validity of Reporting
All week long there were reports that ended up not being true. Even major news networks were making mistakes by reporting too quickly: CNN reported that the bomber had been arrested when they hadn’t even been identified yet. When news is reported the next day (like in the newspaper), there’s time to check facts, check sources, and give a full, researched, account. When reports are instantaneous, there is no time to analyze and check the data.
Consumers expect their media quickly. We want to know what is happening when it is happening. But, we must accept that there may be errors when we rely on live new coverage.
The new phenomenon of “crowd sourcing”
Reddit fueled this topic during the hunt for the bombers. Anyone with access to the internet had the capability of scouring photos, looking for people they deemed suspicious. This led to a lot of false accusations and misidentified suspects. The biggest false lead came when a missing Brown student was identified as the Bomber. The family even took down a Facebook page that had been set up to help find him because people starting posting terrible things about the student. Reddit eventually had to issue an apology for the “witch hunt” that ensued, following the bombings.
Police Communication to the Public through Social Media Outlets
On other hand, there were many good things that came out of today’s media as well. For starters, Boston police and FBI were able to communicate with the public through Twitter. When there were false reports of an arrest, the FBI was able to tweet that this information was false. Additionally, the FBI was able to use the media to help aid in identifying the suspects. They put their pictures out to the media, asking for the public’s help in identifying them. Police also used photos and videos from people in the crowd to help search for the bombers. Today’s social media and news sharing allows for more communication between authorities, media, and the public.
The way big news events like this are covered will continue to evolve, but hopefully some of the lessons of last week will be remembered next time.