Fastest finger first: Police tweets about Boston bombing suspect’s arrest

Journalists depend on news sources for information. Quoting official sources also provides legitimacy to news reports. These official sources now use social media, and Twitter functions as another avenue for journalists to monitor information from sources.

On Friday, April 19, as the news media and the public closely monitored the manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the second suspect in the April 15 Boston bombings, the Boston Police Department tweeted at 7:45 pm that Tsarnaev had finally been taken into custody.

It was an official confirmation that bypassed traditional news organizations.

News organizations retweeted or tweeted about the official tweet thereafter, and so did many Twitter followers of the Boston Police Department, whose number had grown to more than 333,000 that night, even surpassing the 275,000 Twitter followers of the Boston Globe.

Here is a non-exhaustive collection of tweets from news organizations sparked by the Boston Police Department’s first tweet, which has gotten more than 77, 000 retweets and more than 19,000 favorites as of April 20.

Consider this as a sort of timeline of how different news media reacted when official confirmation of an important story came not through their usual unnamed, confidential sources but in the form of a tweet. View the tweets on Storify.

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When media coverage of a tragedy becomes tragic: The Boston bombings

In this post, I collected what I thought were very insightful and interesting analyses of how the media—and that includes both traditional media and social media—covered the Boston bombings. These pieces provide a much needed reflection amid the information chaos journalists and citizens are finding themselves in.

People crave for information during a crisis, and we saw this during the Boston bombings and the subsequent search for those responsible for the crime. The tragedy caused panic not only among people in Boston but also among news organizations seeking to satisfy the public’s hunger for information as well as their own.

These journalists are members of the public, too. They also feel angry, sad, and worried. They also long for information. Sometimes, and we saw this in this recent tragedy, this sense of longing for immediate information to fill in the gaps made more pressing by an impatient, media-savvy public, results in misinformation.

Numerous news organizations wrongly reported that suspects had been arrested a day after the April 15 bombings, as described in these collection of tweets compiled by Buzzfeed.

CNN was singled out, and Buzzfeed also summarizes how CNN ended up contradicting its earlier report based on information from its sources.

Some members of the media-savvy public, no longer totally dependent on traditional media, decided to start their own investigation on social media, turning to crowd-sourcing on sites such as Reddit, with people launching their own manhunt by trying, sometimes wrongly, to identify the suspects based on the images the FBI had released. Here is a report from Bloomberg and another from Telegraph UK.

Some social media users even tried to outdo the media in terms of breaking news about the police manhunt by quoting the Boston police scanner, reporting where authorities were positioned. Of course, reporters were not to be outdone, and authorities even had to appeal for some common sense. Poynter has this report.

But as Nieman Fellow Hong Qu argues in this post, the role of journalists is not lost in this social media frenzy, much of which remains noise, until journalists are able to “track down these sources, vet their credibility, and, finally, assemble scattered pieces of information like a jigsaw puzzle into a meaningful story by filling in context.”

Is that a good thing, though?