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So many new media updates from Boston depended on the old media

Updated: April 21, 2013 8:30PM



Let’s go to the tape. Well, the online video clips.

“Wolf, an arrest has been made. … I was told by a Boston law enforcement source, ‘We got him.’ A federal law enforcement source says an arrest has been made.” — CNN’s John King, April 17, 2013.

“We’re getting some exclusive information. … You heard this dramatic, exclusive reporting that John has done now …” — CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, April 17, 2013.

“Being in Watertown right now, the streets are empty. It’s eerie. It’s as though a bomb had dropped somewhere.” — CNN’s Susan Candiotti, April 19, 2013.

Not a shining week for CNN.

It was almost too easy for Jon Stewart (as good as ever but now registering a 9 on the Smug-O-Meter) to fire up “The Daily Show” and play the snippets of CNN boasting about its “exclusive” before cracking, “There was a very good reason why this was exclusive … oh, it’s exclusive because it was completely f---ing wrong. That’s why it was exclusive!”

Bashing the mainstream

In the hours after the explosions at the Boston Marathon last Monday, while most media outlets were reporting two were dead, the New York Post told us a dozen had been killed.

Later in the week, the Post ran a huge photo of two young men on its front page, along with the headline:

BAG MEN
Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon

The Post didn’t call them “suspects,” but imagine the nightmare of Salah Barhoun, one of the two subjects. “It’s the worst feeling I can possibly feel. … I’m only 17,” said Barhoun, who went to the authorities to clear his name.

The only thing more relentless than the news coverage of the Boston story was the bashing of the mainstream media for getting so many things wrong.

One of my Twitter followers wrote, “Why go to mainstream media for breaking news? Real story is told by eyewitnesses on Twitter.”

Well, no. If you relied only on quick snippets of reportage from non-media at the Boston Marathon, in the neighborhood when the Thursday night shootout took place, or down the block from the backyard where authorities captured of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, you got just that — random snippets, devoid of context.

It’s amazing how many people say, “I get my news from Twitter,” when what they mean is, “I get my news from reliable organizations and individuals that provide updates and links on Twitter.”

Twitter is just the delivery system.

For sourced, vetted, bylined, responsible and yes, mostly accurate reporting, where do you go? The cable news channels. The networks. Your local affiliates. The websites of the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Boston Globe (and your home paper, the Chicago Sun-Times).

Who was on the scene, day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute? CNN and Fox News Channel and MSNBC and ABC and all the other familiar names. Reporters, camera operators and bloggers who work for the mainstream media.

Of course there was good reportage from “new media.” Of course there were amazing photos and viral videos posted on the Internet by citizen journalists. And yes, absolutely, some of the best observations on Twitter and elsewhere come from alternative venues. (We also heard from the lunatic fringe, most prominently soldiers in Alex Jones’ laughably insane army of conspiracy nuts.)

I’m not defending CNN for rushing to the airwaves with bad information. (John King and other reporters should be questioning their sources, and I mean that on a couple of levels.) I’m not saying there weren’t other errors, with far too many instances of news organizations rushing to be first instead of making they got it right.

And to what end? What’s the news (or monetary) value in beating the other guys by an hour? It’s one thing to break news by being the first to report about a president choosing not to run for re-election or an official resigning over a scandal. But an arrest, even if it’s in connection with such a huge story? That’s going to be announced sooner rather than later anyway. Why not go straight to the FBI for confirmation — and if you don’t get it, hold off on broadcasting a big scoop based on information from someone that clearly wasn’t even in the room?

That said, if you think it’s easy to fill days of airtime with live coverage of a huge, complicated, constantly changing, sometimes dangerous, developing news story, give it a try.

And if you think you can legitimately follow a story like that on your TV, your phone, your laptop or any other device without relying on material gathered by trained reporters, video shot by professional camera operators, stories written by veteran journalists and facts that were first obtained by the members of the mainstream media, I’d love to hear how.



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