I had a love-hate relationship with my profession last week.
It started with frustration over an AP photo from the Boston Marathon bombing. The photo in question showed a man in a wheelchair being wheeled away from the site of the bombing. The caption for the photo didn’t give the man’s name and that frustrated me to no end.
I thought it was very distasteful to show a closeup of a man severely injured and not take the time to get the man’s name. I was concerned for his wellbeing and had no way to find out if he was OK or not. I was fearful of using a photo of someone that may have ended up dying in the blast. I thought to do so would be classless. So I didn’t use it. In fact, none of the papers in this newsgroup used the photo — I’m happy to report.
It continued with all of the erroneous reports from — primarily — TV news saying there were more bombs than there were … and that the suspects were caught … and the use of photos of people that may be the suspects. One such case had the New York Post showing front-page photos of two men they said were suspects in the case. As it turns out, they were not.
The race to be first, it would seem, has replaced the need to be right for many news organizations. Just as the desire for sensationalism has replaced any semblance of decorum among many news organizations.
Another example of news-gone-awry was the alleged release of “the suspects” names via a Boston police scanner — followed by several Twitter posts with those names — followed by thousands of retweets of those posts. Within minutes the names of two men unconnected to the case went from a police scanner in Boston to the entirety of the internet due to the rapid response of social media.
Many news organizations picked up on that and used Twitter as a source of information, saying that the details came from Boston police, which Boston PD denies.
The timing was odd as just a week prior a local bank was robbed and the name of the suspect went out over the police scanner. Later that evening we got a press release from the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office about the robbery but they didn’t list the name of the suspect that had gone out over the scanner so we didn’t print it. The decision was made that it was better to be a day late on getting this person’s name out than to have the wrong name published and tarnish someone’s reputation without cause.
As it turns out, the name that went over the scanner was the same as the name of the woman they eventually arrested. But I would still make that same decision again. From my perspective, being right outweighs being first. Every time.
The 24-hour news cycle, coupled with social media has made a mess of the news.
Facebook and Twitter are certainly useful means of communication. But they’re unfiltered and should be taken with a proverbial grain of salt. They shouldn’t be used as sources for media. And they shouldn’t be confused with being vetted media. To be clear, I’m not saying that having access to the most up-to-date news is a bad thing. Not at all. But I am saying that we need to be careful to distinguish between news and supposition.
And by “we” I mean readers and reporters alike. If the mainstream media starts acting like a bunch of bloggers, that’s how we’re all going to end up.
Scott Leffler considers himself a writer with a full-time job editing. He also blogs, Facebooks, Instagrams and tweets @scottleffler.