By now, the world knows about the Boston Marathon bombings. I don’t need to go into details, especially because there aren’t many details available yet.
I just want to talk about the journalism.
From the beginning of publishing, a major breaking news event such as this one has always been a test for journalism. In the years before the internet and when news only came out in the morning, the media had time to develop their stories. After all, the paper might not go to print until 2 a.m. or so.
Fast forward to today. News outlets cover events as they happen, meaning we receive information almost as soon as the media gets it.
I don’t know how many conflicting reports I’ve read since yesterday afternoon.
Officials found an undetonated bomb. No, they didn’t.
Twelve people were killed. No, it was two (though that total has since climbed to three).
Investigators have a suspect in custody. No, they don’t.
Twitter and Facebook only add to the fire. It’s so easy to retweet information, even if it’s false. As for Facebook, I went on Monday night to see a meme that said an 8-year-old girl who was running in memory of Sandy Hook was among the dead. I did some digging on Google and found an 8-year-old boy had been killed while waiting for his father to finish the race.
There was no girl.
But do these discrepancies matter in the first few hours or days after a tragedy?
At this point, authorities don’t have the answers. They probably receive faulty information in the line of duty because they are more concentrated on saving who they can than answering journalists’ questions.
When it comes to false information, I’ve heard people play the blame game with journalists and social media, but that isn’t right. Journalists aren’t vultures for asking authorities questions; people need to know what’s going on. Initially, authorities will make informational mistakes with catastrophes such as the Boston Marathon because there is a lot going on, and their first order of business is to save lives and restore order.
And finally, there is social media, the boogeyman of…well, just about anything. It’s true that social media provide many opportunities for the spread of false information, but they are also how news is broken. They’re a way for news to be publicized to a mass audience. And the wonderful aspect of social media is you can control what information comes from your Twitter or Facebook or anything else.
With chaotic events like the one Monday, we see everyone doing what they’re supposed to. Authorities bring order, but just like us, they’re trying to figure out what is happening too. Officials are not infallible. Journalists are trying to gather and disseminate information, and where else should they turn for facts and statistics other than officials? Finally, social media fosters conversation.
Knowing all of this, we shouldn’t be too hard on any of the parties involved. Pretty soon, officials will know what happened. They will inform journalists, and they will in turn tell us.
Expect mistakes but expect they will be corrected. Be understanding of the situation. And #PrayForBoston.