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?

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