Covering Breaking News—The Boston Marathon

Covering breaking news isn’t easy, but it’s possible.

Reporting on a story as it develops is just that—it’s reporting that entails receiving information and then publishing it. The problem today, however, is social media. As soon as something is published on a social media site such as Twitter or Facebook, it is retweeted or shared, spreading the factual or fictional information with the simple click of a button.

After the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., I considered blogging about how the media broke the news and what mistakes were made. In the end, I decided not to because I didn’t feel that I paid enough attention to the media’s coverage during the massacre. This time, however, I was glued to the TV, the Boston Globe’s website (boston.com) and my Twitter timeline in order to receive the most current news about the attack. Though this information was the most current, I found that it wasn’t the most factual.

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The story of how I found out about the news must be shared because of its irony:

I was sitting in my NEW 345 (Critical Perspective on News) class, which is an ethics class that teaches journalism students ethics relating to current media issues. Today in class we listened to a few term project presentations before my professor, Joan Deppa, turned the lights on and asked what stories we were closely following in the media to spark an ethics conversation. No one spoke up for about a minute and then a male said that he saw on his Twitter timeline that two explosions were reported near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. When others in the class piped in saying they saw the same report, Deppa immediately accessed several news organizations’ websites and attempted to get a live-feed of CNN on in the lecture hall.

After calling an IT professional into the room, we were finally able to watch the news break on ABC (CNN wasn’t working for some reason). The first reports were scarce in terms of details. Basically all that was released was that two explosions occurred near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, within seconds of each other, and there was a lot of blood. These facts all turned out to be true, but it’s the stories that came next, those with more details that falsely reported the attack.

Falsities:

-It was reported by a CNN reporter that there were three bombs, including the controlled detonation by officials. This however was incorrect because including the controlled detonation, there was a total of four “explosions”: (interactive map via Boston.com) the controlled detonation, an “explosion” or a fire at the John F. Kennedy Library in Dorchester, Mass., and the two explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It is now said that the incident at the library is unrelated to the explosions in downtown Boston.

-It was reported by CNN and the Boston Globe that “a person of interest was being questioned” just before 8 p.m. That rumor was quickly shut down by a statement from Boston police commissioner, Ed Davis who stated that no one was in custody at the time and there are no suspects that the police were pursuing.

-In addition, several pictures have surfaced that are considered conspiracies: a man standing on top of a nearby building when the first bomb went off; a Facebook page entitled “Thoughts Go Out to All Those Involved In The Boston Explosions,” that was created two days before the attack; and a rumor that authorities announced “drill” before the Boston explosions. I don’t believe a single one of these accounts, but this information can be accessed at this Facebook account. It seems that the only way some people will believe these horrific events actually occurred is if they are directly affected or actually at the scene.

Although there are fewer falsities reported compared to the excessive number reported during the Newtown massacre. This is progress for journalists, but the only way to be 100 percent sure that all information being reported is the truth, is to get the information directly from a primary source—in both of these cases, the police on the scene or Boston officials that know all the information. It’s good to report news as it happens because then viewers/readers/listeners are well informed. However, when false information is spread instantaneously, the actual news becomes a cluttered mess.

*Compelling images from after the explosions via Boston.com

May the three deceased victims of this attack rest in peace and I hope for a speedy recovery of the 140 plus injured victims.

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