Last week, in Boston…

What do you do as a news consumer when big news breaks? Do you turn to your Twitter feed for the ebb and flow (and maybe even the flotsam and jetsam) in a sea of information? Do you turn to a trusted TV or print news source, keeping one eyebrow raised in skepticism?

Maybe you always keep one eyebrow raised because you’re a journalist. I certainly do because more often than not these days when big news breaks, some news org falls flat on its face. This time, it was CNN and (really, I’m not kidding) AP. But they weren’t alone (check out this piece for a wrap-up of how much bad information was published). And not for the first time. In other breaking news stories in recent years, it’s been The New York Times and even NPR that have had to apologize. Everyone, it seems, is vulnerable to getting blown away in the sh**storm that breaking news has become in this day of multitudinous “news” sources.

The Boston Marathon bombings story and aftermath leaves us with so much to talk about and process. But let’s use this story from Buzzfeed as a conversation-starter on Tuesday.

The author asserts (among other things) that:

Now, the original function of news organizations — uncovering and verifying new information — is as important as it’s always been. But it’s now become the crucial responsibility of a news organization to gather and contextualize information that the media didn’t uncover itself.

That presumably includes rumors and speculation. After you’ve read the piece, comment here and/or on your blog. I really want to know what you think. Is it possible for good journalism to include “the other narratives”? What exactly, in your view, does the writer have in mind?

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16 Responses to Last week, in Boston…

  1. I thought this line in the article, “The tidbit that spreads the furthest, in the ruthless competition for attention, will often be the most shocking, the one most fully shorn from context” was particularly introspective. I think it’s impossible for good journalism to remain good if it ignores these “other narratives.” The writer’s point about the reader already having access to information, whether we as journalists publish it or not, is very true. We are now confronted with the task of finding sources and information in places that may not appear as credible and are a far cry from the newspaper reporting process of the 1970s. If we ignore these sources though, we do a disservice to the reader who is left to find them and then try to contextualize the information themselves.

  2. clandsbaum says:

    “…It’s about predicting which of it will influence the story, and explaining, debunking, or contextualizing it the best we can.” Is this really all reporting comes down to? Contextualizing “other” narratives? While I understand that it’s innately necessary for journalists to acknowledge, explain and contextualize other, possibly misleading, information that’s floating around, the idea that this is *all* the reporting that needs to be done in a crisis strikes a nerve with me. Sure, in the age of social media, citizen journalists and instant sharing this is a crucial function, but I feel journalists can add more to the conversation than simply correcting erroneous information and guiding readers in the consumption of it. I think the points made in this article go a long way in recognizing that the function of journalism is changing, but they stop short of what we can contribute on our own that’s still applicable.

  3. abbiewenthe says:

    In these recent crisis situations, I have discovered most of the information through Twitter, both news outlets and citizens. It is impossible to regulate what readers will see and publish through social media and other websites like Reddit. The job of journalists needs to be to find the real story and report the real facts, which may or may not be the same as what was reported by citizens. News outlets will lose their credibility if they publish bad information, so instead of being the first to report something, it is more important to report the correct thing. Reporting is not just checking the facts of what citizen journalists have already said.

  4. chjasper says:

    I don’t think it’s an option to ignore the “other narratives,” but our job should not only be to provide context to every bit of news out there. It’s safe to assume readers are reasonably well educated and aware of the news, but that doesn’t change the most basic thing all journalists should do: answer the important questions in a story. Journalism has always been about verification and contextualization. Nowadays, we just have to do it faster, and with more noise floating around.

  5. I had very much the same response to this story as Claire did. I can’t agree that all reporting is supposed to be is the “contextualizing” of other information online. While I recognize that journalists are often no longer the first to break news, I don’t think our careers should be defined by damage control for misleading information posted on internet forums or stories falsely written by our contemporaries. I would much rather have a story that has thorough, accurate facts than to be the first to the punch with an inaccurate story.

    This comment, “…a sufficiently compelling scrap of information, be it a picture of a man with a black backpack or an anonymous, single-sentence Reddit post from the scene of the crime, will become news on that merit alone” made me think about the idea that sensationalism trumps real journalism in scenarios like Boston. Unfortunately, the public takes notice of sloppy, underreported work instead of the well-written thorough pieces. I’ve noticed that people like to complain about journalists and jump at the chance to criticize bad coverage in the wake of highly publicized events like last Monday’s bombings, last December’s school shooting in Connecticut or last July’s shooting in Colorado. On the other hand, one does not have to search far to find poor journalism amidst so much coverage.

  6. Cody Mroczka says:

    As I was following this story, via Twitter and various television news outlets (CNN, MSNBC), I noticed how much quicker information was coming from Twitter rather than trusted news outlets. This was the first time I felt Twitter (as a whole) was more informational and accurate than news outlets. I was reading breaking news via tweets well before they were on television, which I thought was intriguing. Like this article states, there were plenty of mistakes made during the coverage of these events. Nowadays it’s all about who breaks the news first, which can sacrifice accuracy and truth. It’s way too risky for news organizations to just take the word of citizen journalists. Sometimes their information is accurate and can provide a new component of the story, other times it is misleading or down right false. I think it’s important for journalists, especially with social media and breaking news, to stick to their ethics. Report the facts, be transparent with your audience, and don’t speculate.

  7. I agree with the Buzzfeed article that we, as journalists, need to address the “other narratives” in our work. Just as Michael Moynihan wrote about in his article, times have changed — people don’t just go around telling uninformed or sensationalized stories by word of mouth anymore. With forums like Twitter today, these stories spread more quickly — and may look more credible while mixed in with stories from news giants like CNN and AP that appear in the same format. This is exactly why professional journalists need to address the leaked sensationalized stories, the “other narratives.” Journalists can’t be “gatekeepers” in the sense that they used to be, but they can provide context to what is true and what is false or exaggerated, and I think that’s what the writer of the Buzzfeed article had in mind.

  8. carolinebmn says:

    When I heard about the Boston Marathon bombing, I was sitting in my editor’s office. The first thing she told me to do was check Twitter. It’s a natural reaction now, like turning on a TV broadcast used to be. Instantly my feed was overflowing with outbursts from news sources and average citizens weighting in. In that stream, it’s impossible to tell what’s been verified. And in the midst of that kind of chaos, it’s impossible to know if the Twitter accounts I considered verified are giving me accurate information. So in that sense, I agree with the Buzzfeed article. The job of news organizations is now two-fold. On one hand, journalists are trying to figure out truth from sensationalism or rumor. On the other, they need to report on news that has already been “reported.” The accusation of Barhoun is a unavoidable example of that.

  9. Pingback: Questions raised in the Boston bombings coverage | dani kass.

  10. Bail says:

    I would agree with most of what has already been said by these ladies so far, but I’m asking myself: how I would try to take on this role in a major news event? As journalists, I do think we have the obligation to negate those sensationalized skews a story can take (be that other news organizations, individuals in social media, etc), but what exactly does this mean in terms of the reporter’s role? Where is the balance between striving to get the real story while still attending these “other narratives”? Do we work to get our facts, and as we progress, stop to explain/refute/validate any other incoming information we come across?
    The idea of conceptualizing and truth-filtering the information that’s already out there for the public is going to become even more necessary as we move forward, and that’s especially true for events like the Boston Marathon bombings. But I also think journalists are going to have to figure out how to balance original reporting while keeping an eye out for those distorted pieces of information making their way around.

  11. ianfrazer says:

    I think journalists should definitely take the “other narratives” into account during their own reporting of the story. They could very well be important leads for the story, but they have to first be verified. Journalists could use connections and sources that the general public does not have to chase down these “tidbits” and see if there is actually any fact behind them. If there is not, there’s no point in printing anything about them. There’s a chance that they could lead to something that breaks the story wide open. But it is incredibly important that journalists go through the proper steps and channels to verify the information before printing it. Other narratives can certainly be useful and should be taken into account during reporting, but journalists should always remember that verification is the absolute most important thing to do.

  12. Joe Trezza says:

    This BuzzFeed story attacks the irresponsible reporting by mainstream news sources following the Boston bombings and reexamines the role of the reputable media companies in the Internet age.

    It says a lot of things people have been saying for a while now, what us journalism students have been hearing every hour of almost every day. That news organizations must now assume the role of bullshit-filterer, uncover the correct information, and when they have it, climb to the top of the mountain and shout it for all to hear.

    Only thing is, it looks like most people will be inside on their computers or phones, barking onto Twitter, out of earshot.

    “The tidbit that spreads the furthest,” the BuzzFeed story says. “In the ruthless competition for attention, will often be the most shocking, the one most fully shorn from context. ”

    This is correct. But it’s our own fault. By embracing Twitter and blogs and Redditt-like sites, news organizations ran headfirst into a battle they weren’t equipped to win. That land is a place of instantaneous gratification, and sensationalism that feeds the constant demand for it.

    It’s not that accuracy has no place in this world, it’s just not prioritized. Timeliness is. Clicks are. Hyperlinks. Whatever will keep sucking our eyes closer and closer to the screen. That’s the way the Internet has always been and that’s how it always will be, on the whole. When newspapers and television news stations are trying to feed this bottomless pit as quickly as possible, it’s impossible for mistakes not to happen. And mistakes hurt us even more. It’s a vicious cycle, and we never had a chance.

    So what’s the solution? I guess it is now that we need to filter out the crap and be as diligent as possible. If you feel like that’s not our job, you’re wrong. It always has been. There’s just a lot more noise now.

  13. Geezers Blog says:

    I think multiple narratives can and should be included, especially in a situation like this. It’s not appropriate to assume readers know all of the narratives, and including different ones can make for a more complete story than simply milking a single narrative for everything it’s worth.

  14. Ok, I forgot to do this post right away, but I still want to do it.

    I think it’s just shocking how wrong some major news organizations have been. The LA Times and AP really shocked me. I read a report on Reuters minutes after it happened that said 0 reports of injuries or fatalities. That’s simply not waiting for facts. Reuters had pictures of blood spattered all over the sidewalk, but a “report” of 0 fatalities?

    I’m not as surprised CNN or the New York Post got it wrong. Cable news networks (Coincidentally, that’s what CNN stands for. Ha.) tent to rush in and sensationalize these stories. They do that with content in genneral. I thought it was hillarious how wrong CNN got it, but I wasn’t shocked. This is the same company that cuts newsroom staff, but plays with holographics on air. John Stewart has made numerous referances to their semi-journalism holographics on air.

    The New York Post is the New York Post. They do this all the time. They also had the headline “BUSH KNEW” after the 9/11 attacks.

    Another anchor, this one also happened to be CNN, said “It’s like a bomb has dropped somewhere,” during coverage of friday’s manhunt.

    It amazess me how little time companies often took in reporting things in Boston. I know there is a need to get things done as soon as possible, but you need to be right too.

    John Stewart did a great job of statirizing the coverage of the manhunt. Stewart showed how TV crews repeatedly had to be told to stay back by police. While police were in a manhunt for a terrorist, some were being used to control the media. Has TV journalism really come to that?

    One camera crew snuck to within a few hundred yards of the boad the second terrorist was caught in. They had to be rushed out by police. Was the best use of public resources, in that case, to rush a camera crew out of a restricted area? The same crew also, theoretically, put the lives of the officers on the line as well.

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