We have crossed over into the surreal. Last month, we all watched in horror as events too impossible for a summer movie blockbuster played out on our television screens, our radios and our computers. The images were indelible and heartbreaking.
While we all had seen events such as these play out before – September 11th, Columbine, Aurora, Colorado and countless others – this one was different.
This event was more… interactive. News delivery changed that Monday in New England. Breaking news was broken on Twitter and Reddit, and reporters were seen glued to their phones for updates. These updates were being given by embedded reporters who didn’t have Journalism degrees, but rather had Skype accounts and webcams.
Websites like Reddit and 4chan “croudsourced” efforts to find “guys with backpacks” and help determine those who murdered and maimed.
News became interactive and locally gathered and less formal.
Only… we all got it wrong.
Reddit and 4chan targeted a number of suspects that turned out not having anything to do with the bombing. The actual bombers never showed up on their witch hunt. Noise and speculation on Twitter had multiple undetonated bombs all over Boston. During the manhunt for those killers, residents of Watertown, Mass craned webcams and cellphones out windows as firefights ran up and down their streets. Many brought compelling video, but I couldn’t help think of the danger these folks put themselves in. For 20 seconds of video. Is that worth your life?
Boston Police repeatedly urged citizens across the globe to stop tweeting police scanner traffic which was being broadcast over websites and video feeds dedicated to listening in on police communications. We were listening to police telling their partners which direction they were going to close in on the suspects – and it’s possible they were hearing that and adjusting their directions.
I don’t know the answer here. Reporting is being deputized down to normal Tom, Dick and Harry’s but they don’t have the benefit of double-sourcing and editor oversight that “real” reporters do. But then again, most of the news coverage didn’t follow their own rules anyway. Everyone will remember CNN’s giant blunder saying that a “dark-skinned” suspect had been arrested – nearly 3 days before two white kids actually were taken into custody.
If we’re all going to become reporters, we should at least do ourselves a favor and learn a little more about maintaining safety and how broadcasting raw data over a police scanner is a bad idea when it jeopardizes the lives of first responders. If we want to participate in the coverage of news, we need to get better at it.
As we now know, the way we get our news changed last Monday. And we have to get a little smarter because of it.