The Boston Marathon bombings shattered what little comfort Americans had slowly amounted in the years after 9/11. They showed us we’re not entirely safe, even if we have to take our shoes off every time we get on a plane, even if we have enhanced security measures and are wary of every threat. They showed us, most importantly, that in the midst of evil is overwhelming, incredible kindness.
The media has repeated all of these lessons for the last four days with a rhythm of radio, television and social media fervor. I’ve seen it firsthand at Al Arabiya, where we, like many other outlets, shelved most of our story plans for the week and devoted time and correspondent presence to Boston.
While I believe that the media’s greatest responsibility is to relay information to the public, I am somewhat concerned by its response to the Boston bombings. It is a response that has not been seen before, as social media and smart phones did not exist on September 11th, 2001. The response of the online public also concerns me.
The news of 9/11 broke first with media outlet footage on main networks across the country. There were few major snafus with erroneous information in the aftermath of 9/11.
Boston broke first on Twitter, when photographs and tweets surfaced from people at the marathon. Though Twitter’s capabilities are to release information in an immediate and more organic form, this immediacy leads to errors.
Many reputable news sources reported incorrect information in the hours and days following the bombings. Monday, New York Post and Fox News reported 12 casualties, and the Post also reported a Saudi national was in custody as a “suspect” in the bombings. The Wall Street Journal also inaccurately reported Monday that police found five incendiary devices.
Wednesday, CNN tweeted news of an arrest that was quickly picked up and perpetuated by the other main networks. All of these outlets later deemed their reports inaccurate, removed their tweets and made quick apologies.
Even though Twitter has allowed for greater participation in breaking news, and outlets should take advantage of its many benefits, they also have a greater responsibility than timeliness. They have a responsibility to be accurate.
In order to remain reputable, the main networks must prove that they’re not in a horserace of tweeting and hash-tagging. The coverage in the last few days has gotten ahead of itself numerous times, fumbling and backtracking its way through the events and information of the attacks. No single source is to blame, and this is an even greater issue. Has frantic inaccuracy become a part of media that we’ve come to accept?
Also, the continuous coverage through TV, radio and Twitter seems to be overwhelming. I agree with the statement of Congressman Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who said the media needs to “chill out” in its coverage of Boston, according to Politico. The victims and their families should not have to be bombarded by reporters or dealing with incorrect information being published about them.
Murphy’s statement is applicable to the public as well, at least in the online sense. My Facebook newsfeed has been consumed by posts about the bombings, ranging from “I hate the world” to “Pray for the victims of Boston.” I too, posted items about the attacks, mostly breaking news as I saw it unfolding here at Al Arabiya, and later a piece in respect for the first responders.
I am glad people can come together and show an outpouring of support for those affected by a tragedy like Boston, but I see a great problem in this kind of interaction with tragic events. It’s impersonal. It doesn’t actually benefit the cause, and as I’ve said before, there’s a huge difference between Facebook advocacy and actual activism.
Instead of just posting online, or conjecturing about what I felt or saw when the attacks occurred, I am donating to The One Fund Boston, and looking for ways to volunteer. I encourage you to do the same. Don’t just post about a topic because it’s trendy and what everyone else is doing. Do your research and post accurate things that have been published for at least a few hours from numerous, reputable news sources. Hopefully they’ll be competent enough to get you the right facts.